The Museum Collection
With over 140 bronzes, marbles, and plasters, the distinguished collection housed in the Rodin Museum represents every phase of Auguste Rodin's career. Located on Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway—which was intended to evoke the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris—the elegant Beaux-Arts–style building and garden offer an absorbing indoor and outdoor experience.
On View in the Garden
The garden outside the Museum displays a total of eight works. While The Thinker
and The Gates of Hell
have stood in their same locations since the Museum opened in 1929, recent advances in conservation undertaken by the Philadelphia Museum of Art have permitted the return of Adam
and The Shade
to their original places within the arches of the Meudon Gate for the first time since 1963. The Age of Bronze
have also returned to the niches they once occupied on either side of the Museum’s portico overlooking the reflecting pool. On the building’s west side, a space vacant for most of the last eighty years contains a version of the monumental The Three Shades
, a generous loan from Iris and B. Gerald Cantor.
On View in the Galleries
The Rodin Museum recently underwent a full-scale reinstallation focusing on the artist’s portraits. For Auguste Rodin, working with a living, breathing model was essential—it enabled him to study the anatomy, facial expressions, and personality of his subject. When he hired models to pose for him, he asked them to move freely in the studio and was most inspired by their unguarded, unrestrained movements. In his portraits of political figures, writers, and artists, Rodin took measurements of their heads and studied their neck and shoulders. Some individuals were uncomfortable with this scrutiny, but Rodin’s aim was to understand and know his subjects intimately so that he could convey their character.
Rodin’s portraits were prized in his lifetime for their vitality and honesty, and they continue to offer fascinating insights into his working practice. The works on view include such renowned subjects as Honoré de Balzac and Victor Hugo, the women in Rodin’s life including Rose Beuret and Camille Claudel, and several works that haven’t been exhibited for many years. This reinstallation presents the opportunity to appreciate Rodin’s prolific and complicated artistic process from a fresh perspective.
The Maneely Family Gallery focuses on a series of works honoring writer Honoré de Balzac (French, 1799–1850). The sculptor spent most of the 1890s working on more than fifty different studies for the statue. His initial interest in a realistic portrayal of Balzac soon evolved into a broader concern with capturing the essence of the author's creative genius. When a model for the final sculpture was presented in 1898 it immediately drew criticism as being undignified and incomplete, but the artist refused to make changes to the portrait, which he regarded as one of his finest works. In 1939, twenty-two years after Rodin’s death, the monument was finally erected in Paris at the corner of boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse.
The Zoë and Dean Pappas Gallery houses several of Rodin’s studies for major public monuments. In the late nineteenth century the French Third Republic sought to bolster its legitimacy by commissioning large-scale public art projects to commemorate individuals vital to the nation’s political and cultural life. Like many sculptors Rodin eagerly entered these competitions, recognizing them as a critical means of establishing his reputation and advancing his artistic ideas. His proposals were often bold and unconventional since he preferred to emphasize the humanity of his subjects rather than their heroic qualities or achievements. While many of the sculptor’s submissions were rejected or realized only with significant changes, the works found in the northeast gallery represent a powerful component of Rodin’s oeuvre and had a profound effect on public sculpture for decades to come.
The Rodin Museum also includes works focusing on the towering bronze doors inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy
that have occupied the building’s portico since 1929. In 1880 Rodin received a commission to create The Gates of Hell
for a new decorative arts museum that was going to be built in Paris. Though the museum was never realized, The Gates
became the seminal work of Rodin’s career and a key to understanding his artistic aims. Left in plaster at Rodin’s death in 1917, the first bronze casts of The Gates of Hell
were made for Jules Mastbaum, the founder of the Rodin Museum; one appears here and the second was given to the Musée Rodin in Paris.
Some of Rodin’s most famous works were originally conceived as part of The Gates
and were only later removed, enlarged, and cast as independent works. The Thinker
evolved from the focal point atop The Gates
into a freestanding sculpture. Though the monumental-sized Thinker
maintains its prominent place in the garden, a smaller version can be seen in this gallery. Also on view is Copy of Rodin’s “The Kiss,”
a marble depicting doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca, who reside in the second circle of hell in The Divine Comedy
. Created especially for the Museum by sculptor Henri Gréber (French, 1855–1941), Copy of Rodin’s “The Kiss”
suits the main gallery of the Rodin Museum exceptionally well, and demonstrates Jules Mastbaum’s vision for the Museum as a place where the breadth of Rodin’s work could become more widely known and appreciated.