I love sculpture and I cannot say why. I’ve lived in New York City and Paris, and while both cities offer an abundance of public galleries to museum lovers, I have an inexplicable appreciation for sculpture. I think it must have something to do with the use of space and dimension, as well as the perception of realism. Mostly space because the space in which sculpture is viewed makes a difference, in my opinion.
My favorite sculpture museum is the Musée Rodin on Rue de Varenne in the 7th Arrondisement. Most are unaware upon entering that they are standing in a converted neo-gothic chapel. The space is modern and functional, and contains the admissions, the gift shop and a small special exhibits gallery. Most visitors quickly exit the back of this first building which is when the real experience begins. In a rose garden, Rodin’s most widely known piece Le Penseur (The Thinker) greets you. Studying this piece leaves me less concerned with what he is pondering so silently and more concerned about what is weighing on my mind. Indeed, his posture and pedestal grant each of us permission to slow our pace, sit down, smell the roses, and think. The layout of the entire museum fulfills this kindness by using the entire estate to present Rodin’s master works as well as his personal collection of antiques, letters, and works by other artists. Visitors wander freely, encountering large scale works of bronze outside and throughout the grounds. The detached 18th century Hôtel Biron houses smaller works of plaster, marble, and paint, and overlooks the manicured English-style garden perfectly rolled out like a red carpet.
For history buffs, the Hôtel Biron itself has historical significance and plenty of stories attached to it. Originally built by Jean Aubert, Architect to the King, it is a wonderfully preserved example of rocaille style, and is ever so French to my American sensibilities. Over the years, it has been let to the Holy See and the Russian Emperor. Other tenants include the writer Jean Cocteau, the painter Henri Matisse, and the dancer Isadora Duncan. August Rodin bequeathed his collection of art and antiques to the state with the condition that he would reside there until his death after which it would forevermore be maintained as the Musée Rodin.
For nature lovers, the property is a welcome escape from the bustle of modern day Paris, complete with paths lined with flowers and the bees and butterflies paying their homage. Sculptures and seating areas dot the premises, so you can spend as much time as you would like in the beautiful space. Bring a book or your sketch pad and you could be there all afternoon. A café blends into the natural setting, allowing you to grab a beverage or lunch on this estate that was once home and inspiration to many artistic minds.
I visited the Musée Rodin numerous times the year I lived in Paris. Each visit was different. Curators move pieces frequently. The season changes and so do the flowers. I knew that a new visual experience awaited me each time. What never changed, however, was the feeling that I had a deeply personal visit with the spirit of Rodin at his marvelous residence.