Established in 1919, the Musée Rodin is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of works by the artist who is generally considered to be the father of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin. The museum’s vast collection is distributed between two sites: the Hotel Biron, situated on the Rue de Varenne in the 7th arrondissement, and the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, a suburb of Paris in the Hauts-de-Seine. In total the museum holds an astonishing 6,600 sculptures, 8,000 photographs and a similar number of drawings, as well as some 7,000 objets d’art. The Rodin Museum receives around 700,000 visitors annually, making it one of the most popular cultural landmarks in Paris.
The Hôtel Biron
At the junction of the Rue de Varenne and the Boulevard des Invalides can be found the Hotel Biron. This magnificent example of Parisian rocaille architecture was built in 1727 by the architect Jean Aubert and stands amidst the delightful surroundings of a huge garden. It takes its name from a duke of Biron who became a distinguished military leader. He bought the mansion in 1753. Previously it had belonged to Louise Bénédicte de Bourbon, the beautiful daughter-in-law of Louis XIV. From the late 18th century the house passed through various hands, becoming at various times the seat of the papal legate, the official residence of the Russian ambassador and a boarding school for girls. Stripped and falling into disrepair, the place was rented by Auguste Rodin and became his studio. Other great artists who spent time in the Hotel Biron during this period include Jean Cocteau and Henri Matisse.
In the early 20th century, the mansion was acquired by the government. Rodin planned to make a bequest of his collections to the state, with the proviso that the Hotel Biron would become a permanent museum of his work. Sadly, the master sculptor died in 1917, two years before his dream became a reality.
The garden of the Rodin Museum covers nearly three hectares, and throughout its verdant expanse can be found various sculptures by Rodin. Situated in the very heart of Paris, it forms a green haven that provides the ideal ambience for a pleasant stroll. Dating back to the time when the mansion was a boarding school for girls, there is a charming 19th century chapel situated in the grounds. Restored in 2005, this building now accommodates a fine exhibition hall and an auditorium, as well as administration offices.
Rodin the collector
During his life, and especially in his later years, Auguste Rodin demonstrated a measureless love for his personal collection of artworks. Throughout his life he accumulated drawings, paintings, ceramics, prints, photographs and various antiques. This huge appetite for cultural artefacts resulted in the impressive holdings of the Rodin Museum and the diversity of works it presents. However, please be aware that in the interests of conservation, some items (especially very old paintings and photographs) are not on permanent display in the museum.
Happily, many artefacts remain on show throughout the year. During the last two decades of his life, Rodin indulged his passion for ancient works of art, accumulating beautiful and fascinating pieces from across the globe in a zestful display of geographical and cultural eclecticism. The artist kept items from Italy, Greece, Egypt and the Middle East in his home, eventually running out of space so that his collection even colonised his studio.
Although sculpture was his primary passion, Rodin also nurtured a strong interest in paintings, which he also enjoyed collecting. So it is that large pictorial works he acquired can still be viewed in the museum today, such as a female nude by Renoir and Père Tanguy by Van Gogh.