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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
Twitter: @MuseeRodinParis