The Other Musée Rodin
The tomb of Auguste Rodin and Rose Beuret in Meudon, topped by ”The Thinker.”
Did you know that there was another Musée Rodin just outside of Paris? I didn’t, but now that the Paris museum’s Hôtel Biron is set to close for renovation (something of a shame; I love its slightly dilapidated air), the Rodin Museum in Meudon is making itself known as an alternative to its better-known city cousin.
And a good alternative it is. Rodin’s home from 1893 until his death in 1917, La Villa des Brillants is set in a large park on a hill overlooking the Seine. Renovated in 1997 based on period photos, it contains a studio where the artist worked, filled with plaster
casts of his statues (some of them curiously standing inside the frame of an elaborate four-poster bed, possibly to keep the pets that roamed the premises in Rodin’s day away from them), and the garden where he liked to meditate. Its dining room is now set up with
his own furniture, and photos give an idea of the artist’s life there with his lifelong companion Rose Beuret, whom he married near the end of his life.
This is also where he worked with his assistant Antoine Bourdelle, a great sculptor in his own right, and his secretary, the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who described in a letter to his wife “the grand, immense impression” created by the dazzling white sculptures that seemed to watch him from behind tall glass doors, “like fauna in an aquarium.” Rodin also received such grand visitors as King Edward VII of England there, and was photographed with his sculptures by Edward Steichen in the garden by the light of the moon.
A great collector of antiquities, Rodin had the pediment and part of the facade of the late-17th-century Château d’Issy-les-Moulineux rebuilt on the property. Today’s museum, a large, high-ceilinged building with enormous arched windows, incorporates the château’s façade. Built to replace the original museum, demolished in 1931 for safety reasons, the new building didn’t open until 1948.
This enormous, light-filled space is home to many of the master’s plaster casts, which, as one of the early steps in creating a sculpture, serve as witnesses to his working process. Stages in the creation of some of the most famous works are here, including “The Kiss,” “The Gates of Hell,” the “The Burghers of Calais” and studies for the “Monument to
Balzac” (which was rejected by its commissioners after Rodin spent seven years researching and making various versions of it), among many others.
The artist, who bequeathed this site to the French government the year before he died, wanted it to become a place of pilgrimage and a museum where the “history of the formation of his thinking” could be studied, according to Léonce Bénédite, the first curator of the Musée Rodin. Rodin aficionados will be especially touched at the sight of the tomb of the artist and Beuret, a simple vine-covered mound topped by the statue of “The Thinker” and set in front of the château facade overlooking the Seine at the end of the garden.
Until now the museum has been open only three afternoons a week from April to September, but it will now remain open year-round. Plans for further improvements are afoot. It is very easy to reach from Paris, just a short ride on line C of the RER to Meudon Val Fleury and then a pleasant 20-minute walk or a bus ride through a calm suburb, the perfect weekend escape from Paris.
For the Nuit des Musées on May 19, the museum will be open from 7pm to midnight, and the garden will be illuminated. Shuttle buses will carry visitors from the RER station to the Musée Rodin and to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Meudon, housed in a 17th-century mansion with its own park, which will be celebrating its reopening after a two-year renovation.
Note: The gardens of the Musée Rodin in Paris and the chapel, where temporary exhibitions are held, will remain open during the renovation of the Hôtel Biron.
Le Musée Rodin de Meudon & La Villa des Brillants: 19, avenue Auguste Rodin, 92190 Meudon. RER line C to Meudon Val Fleury, then bus no. 169 to Paul Bert stop (or 20-minute walk). Tel.: 01 41 14 35 00. Open Friday-Sunday, 1pm-6pm. www.musee-rodin.fr
Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Meudon: 11 rue des Pierres, 92190 Meudon. Open Wednesday-Monday, 2pm-6pm. Closed in August. Admission: free until September 15, 2012, then €2.50.
Reader Michael Barker writes: “It is rather sad that the Rodin Museum in Paris feels the need to be renovated; it always seemed to me fine as it was, but it seems to be the fashion these days and not always with happy results – a certain period atmosphere is often lost with trendy introductions. And all these projects seem to last for years of closure – the Picasso Museum in the Marais a notable example. Rodin did indeed eventually marry Rose Beuret his companion of 53 years (in January 1917 – two weeks before her death! – Rodin died in November 1917) but, despite his reputation as a rather smelly, unwashed individual, there were numerous lovers, not least the sculptor Camille Claudel (who became mad) and the long-suffering English artist Gwen John. What is less well known I suspect – and tends to shock – is that not one of his famous marble sculptures was executed by Rodin himself but by his team of carvers.”
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© 2012 Paris Update