Nearly two centuries since his birth, Auguste Rodin (1840–1917) remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the visual arts community. This summer, visitors will once again see several of Rodin’s greatest works as the Rodin Museum has re-opened to the public.
Its collection is reinstalled and reinterpreted, and its buildings and gardens are restored to the condition that visitors would have experienced when the Rodin Museum first opened to the public in 1929. This comprehensive renovation, accomplished over the past three years, included the restoration of the gardens designed by Jacques Gréber, the restoration of the Meudon Gate and exterior of the Rodin Museum, both designed by the great Philadelphia architect Paul Cret, and the restoration of the interior and re-installation of the collection, which represents one of the most important holdings of Rodin’s work anywhere. The Rodin’s re-opening marks another artistic museum jewel along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the most artistic mile in the country that stretches from City Hall to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“As this important, cultural district reaches another milestone this summer, with the opening of the new home for the Barnes Foundation just across 22nd Street, it was both fitting and necessary for us to focus attention on the Rodin Museum,” said Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener director and C.E.O. of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “This is, fundamentally, an act of stewardship, restoring one of Philadelphia’s loveliest buildings, which is notable for the purity of its design and the restrained elegance of its ornament, and reinstalling and reinterpreting one of the finest collections of Rodin to be found anywhere in the world. We hope that visitors to Philadelphia will count the Rodin Museum among this city’s finest artistic treasures and that the citizens of our city and region rediscover it as a place to meet, to reflect and to enjoy the work of a brilliant and widely admired sculptor, Auguste Rodin.
In the galleries of the Museum, an entirely new presentation of the collection is on display. Returning the Rodin Museum to its original state has required a comprehensive cleaning that embraced the exterior stonework as well as the building’s tall windows and high dramatic skylight that extends across the vaulted main gallery and now generously bathes the space below in far more daylight. The re-installation includes 90 works in a variety of materials — bronze, marble, terracotta and plaster — that survey the genesis and development of Rodin’s monumental “The Gates of Hell,” a project inspired by Dante’s Inferno that consumed the artist for nearly four decades, from 1880 until his death in 1917.
“This museum has been given a vibrant new life, while remaining true to its original concept and design,” said Rub. “Every detail of the architecture, of the interior, of the installations — both indoor and out of doors — and certainly of the garden, has been thoughtfully worked out by many caring and talented individuals.”
Within the refurbished galleries, the inaugural installation of the collection will be dedicated to “The Gates of Hell” as a tribute to the artist’s epic vision and to the passion of the Museum’s founder, Philadelphia entrepreneur and collector Jules Mastbaum (1872–1926). Mastbaum paid for the first two bronze casts of Rodin’s “Gates,” the earliest of which has stood in the Museum’s portico since 1929. In 1880, Rodin received the commission to create “The Gates of Hell.” It became the defining project of Rodin’s career, occupying him the last 37 years of his life. The artist’s most famous work, the brooding “The Thinker,” which faces the Benjamin Franklin Parkway before the Museum’s entry gate, was also conceived as part of the project and was later enlarged and cast in bronze as an independent work. Mastbaum ordered the casts of the “Gates” from Rodin’s estate in 1925, eight years after the artist’s death, and presented the second cast to the Musée Rodin in Paris.
Visitors will be able to learn more about Rodin’s work through new interpretive tools, including a new mobile app, and new public programs such as family activities and performances. The Rodin Museum, located on the 2200 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, will be open to the public from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays. It will be closed on Tuesdays.