The Musée Rodin in Paris has undergone a complete renovation that really brings the prolific artist’s works to life
The once dilapidated mansion that Rodin called home reopened on 12 November following a €16 million revamp, which would have left the sculptor lost for words. The result is a fabulously chic and fully accessible building, housing a number of works that are on display for the very first time. A couple of months later and the museum is doing really well. Visitor numbers are thankfully on the up (the devastating Paris attacks led to a temporary lull in visitors) as word is spreading fast that this charming residence set behind the gilded dome of Les Invalides is a worthy rival to Paris A-listers such as the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay.
With its high-ceilinged rooms and enhanced wooden floors, the Hôtel Biron is the perfect backdrop for the 600 pieces that are housed here. Works on show are not just those produced by Rodin; there are also sculptures by pupil and former lover Camille Claudel as well as thousands of pieces of Greek and Roman sculptures, which once served as inspiration for the master of modern sculpture.
The sculptures on display are all incredibly evocative, although his most fragile works, which include his assemblages, are particularly noteworthy as they uncover a different side to the great artist – namely his penchant for humour. Excellent examples include the tiny woman emerging from a 2,000-year-old Greek wine cup and a naked man launching a female figure onto his shoulders, which curator Bénédicte Garnier labels as ‘examples of Rodin at his most playful.’ Meanwhile, in another room sits a collection of plein air landscape paintings, some of the artist’s earliest pieces which allude to the time when the famous sculptor wasn’t sure whether to use paint or marble to produce his works.
It is not just inside this beautiful building where visitors will find his most impressive works. His monumental bronzes, including The Thinker, one of the most famous sculptures in the history of art, stand proudly in what was once the abandoned garden, where poet Rainer Maria Rilke told Rodin in 1908 that ‘trusting rabbits can sometimes be seen leaping through the trellises.’
Many art enthusiasts will agree with museum director Catherine Chevillot that restoring this great sculptor’s artistic legacy was ‘a matter of utmost cultural importance.’ This now wonderfully pristine property once welcomed in excess of 700,000 visitors each year, and it should therefore come as no surprise to learn that vast sections of the original parquet flooring were completely worn out by the time the renovation work began on the museum in 2012 and had to be replaced. Among the many modern flourishes is the sophisticated lighting system, which projects warm light onto plaster and colder onto bronze, helping to really bring the pieces to life.
Interestingly, Rodin was already a star by the time he came to rent his space in Hôtel Biron. The artist occupied the series of light-filled rooms on the ground floor before gradually taking over the entire building. A major part of the restoration was to improve the overall space. The doorways leading into the rooms once inhabited by the artist were widened and two former offices were taken over to create one long, smooth display, which makes for an enhanced visitor experience.
The renovation’s last major priority was to decorate the once cracked, grimy white walls with a colour which would complement the vast array of artworks on display. Following trials of some 80 different shades, it was UK luxury paint specialist Farrow & Ball who came up with the perfect colour – one entitled ‘Biron grey’ to match the shades of marble, bronze, stone and terracotta found throughout the 18-room building.
The two-storey, creamy-stone building is complemented by the exquisite gardens where seven acres of manicured lawns, topiary and pollarded trees add a sumptuous finish. These landscaped gardens are also the setting for the museum’s café, which with its step-free access is the perfect spot for all visitors to sit and reflect on the works of one of France’s most accomplished artists.
The Musée Rodin (tel: (Fr) 1 44 18 61 10, www.musee-rodin.fr) is open from Tuesdays to Sundays.
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