There aren’t many museums that can draw thousands of visitors who never even go inside. But the grounds of this splendid place are so lovely that many are willing to pay 4€ just to stroll around. Behind the Hôtel Biron, the mansion that houses the museum, is a formal garden with benches, fountains, and even a little cafe. Of course, it would be foolish not to go inside and drink in the some of the 6,600 sculptures in this excellent collection (don’t worry, not all are on display), but it would be equally silly not to take the time to admire the large bronzes in the garden, which include some of Rodin’s most famous works. Take, for example, “The Thinker.” Erected in front of the Panthéon in 1906 during a political crisis, Rodin’s first public sculpture soon became a Socialist symbol and was quickly transferred here by the authorities, under the pretense that it blocked pedestrian traffic. Other important outdoor sculptures include the “Burghers of Calais,” “Balzac,” and the “Gates of Hell,” a monumental composition that the sculptor worked on throughout his career.
Indoors, marble compositions prevail, although there are also works in terra-cotta, plaster, and bronze, as well as sketches and paintings on display. The most famous of the marble works is “The Kiss,” which was originally meant to appear in the “Gates of Hell.” In time, Rodin decided that the lovers were too happy for this grim composition, and he explored it as an independent work. As usual with Rodin’s works, the critics were shocked by the couple’s overt sensuality, but not as shocked as they were by the large, impressionistic rendition of “Balzac,” exhibited at the same salon, which critic Georges Rodenbach described as “less a statue than a strange monolith, a thousand-year-old menhir.” The museum holds hundreds of works, many of them legendary, so don’t be surprised if after a while your vision starts to blur. That’ll be your cue to head outside and enjoy the garden. Note: Don’t be surprised if parts of the building are closed for renovation during your visit. The most famous pieces should still be on display, and the statues in the garden will all be present and accounted for.
- Margie Rynn