The tomb of Auguste Rodin and Rose Beuret in Meudon, topped by ”The Thinker.”
The French sculptor Auguste Rodin lived and worked in Meudon, a small town overlooking the Seine on the southwest fringes of Paris, from 1895 until his death in 1917. In December 1895, he had purchased a house, the Villa des Brillants, and surrounding parkland at auction and in this idyllic setting was inspired to create some of his most celebrated sculptures and drawings.
Although he traveled every day to his workshop in Paris, his plaster casts and collection of antiquities were housed in the Meudon villa and various outbuildings on the estate, and it was there that he would receive his many illustrious guests and admirers. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke lived there for several years, working as Rodin’s secretary. Rodin and his wife, Rose Beuret, are buried beneath a version of his sculpture “The Thinker” overlooking the Valley of the Seine.
The house, now a museum, is open to the public year-round. In this enclave of sumptuous greenery, you can sense something of the atmosphere of the artist’s private home and his working life, the two inextricably bound together. The estate was restored in 1997 on the basis of photographs taken during Rodin’s lifetime.
In 1900, Rodin held his first solo exhibition in France, in a specially built pavilion on the Place de l’Alma, as part of the Paris Universal Exhibition. A year later the pavilion was dismantled and rebuilt on the Meudon grounds, where Rodin used it as one of his several studios.
Many of his preparatory works are now exhibited in this monumental gallery space, graphically illustrating his creative processes. After Rodin donated the villa and its contents
Plaster casts in the pavilion.
to the state in the year before his death, the pavilion became a place of pilgrimage for those seeking a deeper understanding of his work.
The visitor is indeed plunged into Rodin’s universe. The large collection of plaster casts includes multiple studies for his monumental works, such as “The Burghers of Calais” and “The Gates of Hell,” in different stages of development. It includes, too, many examples of plaster limbs in various positions, which Rodin would assemble and reassemble according to his needs. An obsessive experimenter and perfectionist, he would place a small model of whatever sculpture he was working on in the middle of the table when he sat down to dine en famille so that he could continue to study its form in detail even as he ate.
The house, built of brick and stone in the Louis XIII style, is elegant but quite modest considering the fame and success that Rodin was enjoying by that stage of his career. A studio attached to it, with a wall of high windows to let in the light, is oddly more impressive.
This summer, visitors to the Meudon museum can also take in a contemporary art show, the first in a planned series. From May 17 to September 14 the sculptor, draftswoman and video artist Françoise Jolivet will be showing “Sap and Scars: How to Trick Nature” in the Atelier des Antiques, where Rodin used to display his antiquarian collection. Jolivet engraves a tracery of lacelike patterns
One of Françoise Jolivet’s “scarred” pumpkins.
and phrases into the skin of pumpkins. As they grow, the engraving changes shape, and the skin blisters and scars, creating new patterns. It’s a far cry from “The Thinker” or “The Burghers of Calais,” but Rodin might have appreciated a fellow explorer of nature and its endlessly shifting shapes.
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. Admission: €5. www.musee-rodin.fr
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