The grounds of this splendid museum are so lovely that many are willing to pay 4€ just to stroll around. Behind the Hôtel Biron, which houses the museum, is a formal garden with benches, fountains, and even a little cafe (no picnics allowed, unfortunately). Of course, it would be foolish not to go inside and drink in the some of the 6,600 sculptures of 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 an intense political crisis, Rodin’s first public sculpture soon became a Socialist symbol and was quickly transferred to the Hôtel Biron by the authorities, under the pretense that it blocked pedestrian traffic. Today, specialists query whether the man is actually “thinking” or mourning. Rodin was an admirer of classical sculpture and the way the hand supports the chin is in line with how Ancient Greeks depicted grief. Other important sculptures in the garden 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 you will also see works in terracotta, 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. The sculpture was inspired by the tragic story of Paolo and Francesca, in which a young woman falls in love with her husband’s brother. Upon their first kiss, the husband discovers them and stabs them both. 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.” Hundreds of works are here, 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.
- Anna Brooke