When most people think of the famous sculptor Auguste Rodin, they say "The Thinker." Or "Le Penseur" if they're fancy. But when you ask me, I say "The Kiss." And "The Gates of Hell." And "The Burghers of Calais." And "I Am Beautiful." And ... well, you get the picture. So imagine what I have to say after spending one glorious day at the Musée Rodin in Paris.
2017 marks the 100th anniversary of Rodin's death, and museums all around the world are celebrating the works of this prolific master of marble, bronze and terracotta and the delightful legacy he left behind. 2017 also marks the year this little museum geek traveled across the Atlantic to visit the former home and now current keeper of Rodin's magnificent library of drawings, prints and sculptures.
But why does my mind conjure up images of "The Kiss" instead of "The Thinker" when I hear Rodin's name? After all, "The Thinker" is his most famous piece. Well, that's easy. Blame Cardiff. Years ago, at the ripe old age of 21, I visited the National Museum Cardiff while on spring break (because that's how English majors roll!). While there, I strolled through the art gallery section of the Amgueddfa Cymru and paused in front of a reproduction of Rodin's "The Kiss" carved in marble. Words can't describe my visceral reaction to this work. I must have stared at it for a full 15 minutes, trying to memorize every curve, every dip, every line. Shaking myself from my trance I walked away to view other art pieces throughout the gallery, but I returned to stare at "The Kiss" not once, but twice.
On that day, I learned how truly powerful art can be.
So it should be no surprise that years later, I paid a visit to America's own slice of Auguste, the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. For those who can't make it to the proverbial Mecca in France, the Philly museum is definitely worth every moment of your attention. It was here that I came to marvel at his smaller more intimate pieces like "I Am Beautiful," "Danaid" and "The Clenched Hand." But it wasn't enough for this great art lover.
Some eight years later, I found myself walking through the gardens at Hôtel Biron, falling in love all over again.
Since I can't fully articulate what it is about Rodin's work that speaks to me on such a instinctive level, I've opted to share the images I captured on that brisk Sunday morning in March. Below, hopefully you can see why I was drawn to his art. And if not, perhaps you'll enjoy the virtual stroll through the garden and home at Musée Rodin.
Instead of creating a slider gallery or carousel, I thought it best to present the photos one-by-one with a short caption to provide context and identification. As always, feel free to click on the images directly to see a larger version on your screen.
The entrance to Musee Rodin in the 7th arrondissement.
Anselm Keifer's work, greatly influenced by Rodin, was a part of a current exhibition in celebration of Rodin's 100th anniversary. This piece is called "Les Cathedrales de France."
Anselm Keifer's "Palmol" is as unique as everything else in his collection.
Rodin's most famous masterpiece, "The Thinker," is the first work you see upon entering the sculpture garden from the entrance building.
By no means my favorite piece by Rodin, but definitely one of the most respected. And deservedly so. "Le Penseur" represents so much about Rodin's approach to creativity that it's filled countless books dissecting the man from the myth.
You can't help but appreciate the landscape of the garden and how it complements Rodin's works perfectly.
Rodin was especially proud of his statue venerating Honore de Balzac (1898). But it too, like so many other Rodin creations, sparked controversy at its debut.
I particularly like this shot of "Balzac" because of how Les Invalides (home of Napoleon's tomb) dominates the background.
I can't recall the name of this piece, so I've decided to refer to him as "The Painter."
"Aphrodite" (1914) was one of Rodin's later works created as a companion piece for a play by the same name.
"Destiny" (1909) was based on a similar piece called "Fallen Caryatid with Stone," also on display in the garden. I prefer "Destiny" because her body, facial expression and demeanor carries a hint of grace in the face of struggle.
"Destiny" is cast in bronze and was originally intended to be a part of "The Gates of Hell" masterwork before Rodin had other ideas for her.
As I strolled around the garden on this brisk Sunday morning, I couldn't help but wonder as I passed by the rear of the property how even more resplendent the garden must be when all of the flowers are in bloom.
This gentleman is one of the Shades, a trio of men who stand atop "The Gates of Hell." Here, by himself, he looks even more despondent.
You won't see this behemoth at the Rodin Museum in Philly. Nope. You have to visit his Parisian home to see and learn why this statue of Victor Hugo meant so much to Rodin.
Depicted later in life and while in exile in Jersey (the UK island principality, not the US state), Rodin sought to capture Victor Hugo at a time in his life that many have chosen to forget.
In the "Monument A Victor Hugo Dit Du Palais Royal" statue, Hugo is seen listening to the muse Tragedy, as he seeks inspiration by the sea shore. His hand futilely stretches out toward the water in hopes of calming it so he can listen a bit more intently to the words of Tragedy.
The "Monument to the Burghers of Calais" (1888) is one of my favorite Rodin pieces, as well as the subsequent individual statues, like this one of "Jacques de Wissant." The definition of each man in the monument carries with him such a distinct emotional state it's as if Rodin made sure no one will ever forget the sacrifice these men made centuries ago.
If you read my post about my trip to Paris this year, you'll know that this statue of "Andrieu D'Andres" (1888) spoke to me in a way I cannot begin to explain.
I fought the urge to touch Andrieu's hands as I went in closer for this shot. The wave of despair that emanates from this piece is so powerful, but I feared being disrespectful. So I kept my hands to myself.
If "The Thinker" is Rodin's masterpiece, then "The Gates of Hell" must be his master oeuvre. Here, you can see people are drawn to it like a flame.
If you're wondering what the woman in the red coat was doing in the last photo, she was sketching this nearby statue.
Many of the individual statues in the garden are solo recreations of the characters you see depicted here in Rodin's "The Gates of Hell." Notice "The Thinker" sitting prominently near the top.
"The Gates of Hell" is an artistic interpretation of Dante's "Inferno" and the souls that writhe in agony as they experience their own unique punishment for a life of sin.
I could sit all day and study each character in "The Gates of Hell." Or I could just read the book I bought in the gift shop that takes a closer look at each figure and relates them to Virgil's trip to the underworld.
"The Three Shades" (or Les Troi Ombres) seen here in a larger representation sit atop "The Gates of Hell" and collectively point to the phrase from Dante's and Rodin's work: "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here."
"The Monument to the Burghers of Calais" in its completed form stands near the front of the garden at the Musee Rodin.
After enjoying the gardens at Hotel Biron (or Musee Rodin), I made my way inside his home to enjoy the works that reside there. This one is called "L'Orpheline Alsacienne (1880)."
"The Defense or The Call to Arms" was created in 1879. It features one of the few times Rodin presented a figure outside of a pensive or romantic state.
Pieces like this one, called "Children Embracing" (1881-1883), highlight Rodin's skill in terracotta.
Praised as one of Rodin's most famous works, "Crouching Woman" (1906-1908) is also considered by many to be one of Rodin's best pieces.
Rodin's depiction of Perseus carrying the head of recently slain Medusa remains a powerful image.
"The Convalescent" (1914) is a marble piece that I had the pleasure to see for the first time at the Musee Rodin.
Who is Rodin if not a lover of controversy? This piece called "Iris, Messenger of the Gods," was at the center of outrage and fascination as it was one of the first modern pieces to display a woman's genitalia so prominently.
Often when Rodin's work appeared at an exhibition with other artists, he would create his own pedestals for his displays. This allowed him to use the pedestal as a balance and complement to the art work itself.
"Despair" (1903-1904) was also a piece that was originally a part of the Gates of Hell before Rodin had other ideas.
"Eternal Springtime" (1884) was reminiscent of "The Kiss," but proved to be far less controversial. It remains a favorite among collectors around the world.
As I bid the Musee Rodin farewell, I happily captured this shot of the garden with Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower in the background. It was a lovely way to end my visit and close the book on visiting a space I've wanted to see since I first gazed upon "The Kiss" in that museum in Wales.