Following the World’s Fair in Paris in 1900, French sculptor Auguste Rodin was one of the most sought-after artists in the world. He needed more space to receive journalists, art dealers, and clients so he decided to rent several rooms in the 18th century Hôtel Biron on Paris’s Left Bank, an artist enclave where the likes of Henri Matisse and Isadora Duncan would mingle. In 1919, two years after his death (and at his behest) this space was gifted to the French state along with the artist’s personal collection and became the Rodin Museum. After decades of visitors tromping on the fragile parquet floors, the institution was in desperate need of repair. Following a three-year, $17 million renovation, the Rodin Museum reopened to the public fully on November 12 (the artist's would-be 175th birthday) as a sublime, modern space finally worthy of the iconic works displayed within its walls.
Surrounded by a walled garden, the museum building itself is now a work of art. The ornate 18th-century interiors feature an array of Farrow & Ball paint colors in soothing grays and greens, including “Biron Gray,” a color created just for the museum. The mansion’s beautiful Palladian windows flood the spaces with natural light, complemented by a new lighting system that dims or brightens automatically based on the light outside.
Curators say that during his own lifetime, Rodin liked to place his sculptures next to works by other artists and the antiquities he collected over the years and they’ve tried to capture that spirit in the renovation. Eighteen reimagined exhibition rooms showcase Greek and Roman antiquities, works by his contemporaries including Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh, as well as his own paintings, plasters, and sculptures. One room displays his work side by side with paintings by his good friend Eugene Carrière. In the octagon shaped Room 17, Rodin’s famed Walking Man sculpture cuts a striking figure in the center while Greek and Roman fragments of feet, hands, and torsos that may have influenced the seminal work are displayed along the walls. Another highlight: The Age of Bronze is beautifully positioned beneath a chandelier in the center of an oak-paneled room.
The long awaited renovation is a pleasure for museumgoers and a source of great pride for those involved in the project. Iris Cantor, widow of B. Gerald Cantor, who amassed the largest private collection of Rodin in the world, and current president and chairman of the Cantor Foundation, one of the sponsors of the renovation, was on hand for the opening. “For me, because I was the guardian of a great legacy, I feel I’ve come full circle and it’s very gratifying.”
Photo Credit: Musée Rodin