The Exquisite Renaissance of the Rodin Museum in Paris

The Exquisite Renaissance of the Rodin Museum in Paris

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Musée Rodin reopening in Paris ©Sylvia Davis
Musée Rodin reopening in Paris ©Sylvia Davis

After a three-year renovation the historic Hôtel Biron, home to the Rodin museum since 1919, reopens its doors this week after a much needed makeover. The artworks, graceful proportions of the mansion, and enchanting gardens make for a soul-restoring experience, both for the casual tourist, the passionate art lover, or in Rodin’s words, for “young people, you who wish to be the celebrants of beauty, it may please you to find the essence of long experience here.”

Musée Rodin during the renovation works ©Sylvia Davis
Musée Rodin during the renovation works ©Sylvia Davis

Auguste Rodin moved to an apartment in the Biron residence in 1908 paying a very cheap rent because the building was in receivership. The elegant structure had fallen into disrepair and some of architectural features had been sold off piecemeal (such as the boiserie in the round room which has now been reinstated to its former glory). Rodin mostly used the Hôtel Biron address to entertain friends, dealers and collectors, in conjunction with his atelier located just southwest of the city in Meudon –which incidentally is part of the Musée Rodin and makes for a lovely day trip. Rodin donated all his works to the French state, by then owner the building, provided that the mansion became the Rodin museum, and that he would be allowed to reside there until his death. The nature of this donation transferred ownership of over 33,000 works, which allows the museum in select cases to recast multiples of iconic works, providing an important source of self-funding.

Rodin's most emblematic works: The Kiss, The Thinker, The Three Shadows ©Sylvia Davis
Rodin’s most emblematic works on their new pedestals; The Kiss, The Thinker, The Three Shadows ©Sylvia Davis

The 700,000 visitors that flock to the museum each year can once more make their entrance through the great gates, to be greeted by the breathtaking vista of the handsome façade and surrounding sculpture gardens. The sympathetic three-year renovation respected the spirit and structural coherence of the site, while at the same time bringing everything up to code including electrics, structure, security and integrity of the art, and full accessibility with an all-important elevator. The €16 million renovation under architect Dominique Brard, of L’Atelier de L’Île, didn’t miss a single detail, down to the bespoke “Biron Gray” paint color created by Farrow & Ball, or the automated lighting system that adjusts to the variation in natural lighting independently for each individual room and exhibit.

Insight into Rodin's creative process ©Sylvia Davis
Insight into Rodin’s creative process ©Sylvia Davis

The curatorial approach now sheds light on the artistic process behind the work. Museum Director Catherine Chevillot urges visitors to take their time during the visit.
“This age of virtual images,” she said, “makes us forget what it is to confront the materiality of objects and forms. Sculpture, by its nature, can never be reduced to an image: you need time to appreciate it in all its facets under changing light.”

Clay and plaster dialogue with marble and bronze ©Sylvia Davis
Clay and plaster in dialogue with marble and bronze ©Sylvia Davis

Clay models and plasters casts have come out of the reserves at Meudon as has Rodin’s extensive collection of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities that he used as references to inform his work. We get a better sense of the artist testing, probing, and challenging the established academic principles, through the counterpoint of the rough sketches next to the highly polished final versions. The exhibit also includes some of the 200 paintings included in Rodin’s bequest that the sculptor had either purchased, such as the striking Portrait of Père Tanguy by Van Gogh, or acquired by swapping with his artist friends, such as Monet’s Belle-Île. These paintings provide a glimpse into Rodin’s preferences and his relationships with his contemporaries.

The chapel continues to house the temporary exhibitions, and the Café du Musée in the formal gardens offers a delightful respite for an informal lunch a cup of coffee with a delicate patisserie.
The Musée Rodin reopens to the public on Rodin’s birthday, November 12.

Musée Rodin, 77 rue de Varenne, 7th.
Métro: Varenne / Invalides
Open every day 10am to 5.45pm. Wednesday until 8.45pm. Closed Monday.
Entry is €10.
Tel: +33 (0)1 44 18 61 10.
www.musee-rodin.fr.
Twitter: @MuseeRodinParis

8 COMMENTS

  1. More please.
    This is my favorite museum not only for the amazing art but the artwork that is the FLOOR!
    It is the only inlay floor I have seen that creates an optical illusion of being large beams.
    If that is not enough, its garden café is one of the very best in Paris…
    I am jonesing over this place.
    please write more about the arts in Paris.

    • Thank you Jim! I think you’ll enjoy this little tidbit. During the recent renovation they took out every single piece of parquet flooring and restored it. If it was 50% salvageable it would be restored, if the damage was too much, they replaced it with an identical part. A true labour of love.

  2. It wasn’t closed last year, though things were a bit makeshift. And thank heavens for them fixing the floor. The first visit years ago I thought I would go right through it.

  3. Thank you, Sylvia! Your article inspired me to stop by Paris in Jan. ’16 during my trip in Italy. I adore Rodin’s work, and seeing the renovated museum would be a such great treat. Look forward to seeing the floor, as noted by you and others, and reading more about your introduction to hidden treasures of the Paris arts and culture scenes. Merci!

  4. @SAbina: Thank you so much for your lovely comment. Enjoy your visit!
    @Lynn: that’s right, the museum has been partially closing different sections of the Hôtel Biron during the 3-year renovation, until it eventually closed completely in January 2015 to reopen on November 12.

  5. I went to the Rodin Museum for the first time in the summer of 2016. I was in Paris for a series of Art Deco tours and to give a talk at the Ecole des Beaux Arts. When that concluded, I made a bee-line to the Rodin Museum. My grandmother would always tell me about her favorite sculpture called Rodin’s ‘Hand of God’ that she saw as a girl in New York City. It amazed her and, as a little kid, she amazed me with her description of it. I had only seen his work in books and when I lived in San Francisco, there was his famed “The Thinker” outside the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Although ‘The Hand of God’ was not at the Rodin Museum, I spent hours walking through the gardens and the house savoring all the delights of not only Rodin’s sculptures but his own personal art collection as well. I recommend to all my friends when I hear that they are going to Paris.

  6. Musee Rodin is our favourite Parisian museum & we’ve been to all of the major ones multiple times.
    Outside there are major pieces, but “The Thinker” steals the show. Inside “The Kiss” is enthralling, but do not overlook the room dedicated to Camille Claudel, Rodin’s muse, pupil & lover.
    We’ve been to this museum 5 times, but not since the renos you describe; we’re returning to Paris in October & will visit it again.

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