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New museography and renovated rooms: taking a new look
The historical link between the collection and the Hôtel Biron is the essence of the museum’s soul; renovating the space meant renewing the link without unsettling that soul. The new museum tour is designed to focus on Rodin’s work in all its facets; rather than presenting a “new Rodin,” the idea is to take a new look at the artist and his work.
In recent decades, scientific research has led to the rediscovery and better understanding of many original plasters, removed from the storerooms for the occasion. Visitors will find many pieces that have never been shown before in a display that affords a more comprehensive, coherent and accessible view of Rodin’s production, showcasing works in context in a clearer way. After a chronological presentation on the ground floor (including a room with a reproduction of the Hôtel Biron as it was in Rodin’s day), the first floor explores the aesthetic and historic dimensions (the Symbolist room, the Pavillon de l’Alma in 1900) and the creative process (Assemblage, Fragmentation, Enlargement). One of the oval rooms, designed in the spirit of a cabinet de curiosités, presents Rodin’s sculptural practice alongside his activity as a passionate collector of antiquities.
The tour, which incorporates every facet of the artist’s work, provides a visitor experience that is smoother and more flowing, thanks to the inclusion of a room formerly used as an office.
The aim of the project is to keep Rodin’s original intention alive: offering the visitor an immersive experience in the world of his sculpture, and of sculpture in general.
The flow of the visit
The layout of each floor of the new museum is designed as a loop, and is accessible to people with reduced mobility. Works are arranged to be visible from one room to the next – inviting visitors to advance – but are positioned so as not to impede movement between rooms. Each room has the same basic design principle, but differences in the number and position of the works on display create “order” or “disorder,” and each space has a dominant feature that varies from room to room.
These variations of rhythm allowed us to preserve the special charm of the museum – that of a private residence with nothing clinical about it. The challenge was to design a tour that respected the character of the building, with its advantages and disadvantages. Great care was taken to preserve the particular mood of a visit to the Hôtel Biron by preserving the essence of its sensitive qualities: the indoor/outdoor relationship; the natural light; the views and reflections; the sense of intimacy.
New room: Rodin at the Hôtel Biron
This room, reconstructed from period photographs, evokes Rodin’s presence at the Hôtel Biron which he discovered in 1908 and made into a place where he could exhibit his work and receive collectors and models. The late 19th-century screen with its decoration of plant motifs recalls the modeling sessions held in the sculptor’s studio. Busts by Rodin were displayed on wooden sculptor’s stands, alongside a 14th-century Virgin and Child; Roman torsos stood on wooden crates. The room was diversely furnished, with a Louis Philippe-style mahogany-veneered writing desk and an early 19th-century white painted corner cupboard bearing Greek and Chinese vases. On the floor stood two Japanese bronze perfume-burners, dating from the 19th century.
The journalist and art critic Mathias Morhardt, a fervent admirer of Camille Claudel, suggested to Rodin that a room in the museum should be dedicated to the work of the sculptress. The idea did not become reality until 1952, when Paul Claudel donated four major works by his sister to the museum: Vertumnus and Pomona, the two versions of The Age of Maturity and Clotho. The collection was gradually enriched by donations and acquisitions by the museum.
New room: Rodin and Antiquity
“Antiquity is my youth,” declared Rodin, meaning that his passion for Antiquity was a great source of inspiration. Rodin was a zealous collector of antiquities and, from 1893 onward, bought thousands of fragments of Greek, Roman and Egyptian sculptures which inspired his artistic reflection. In both Meudon and Paris, he displayed these pieces among his own works, on crates, stands or plaster columns.
One hundred and twenty-three antiquities from Rodin’s collection have been taken out of the museum storerooms to be presented in the last-but-one room on the tour, where they are confronted by The Walking Man – one of Rodin’s key sculptures, which resonates with these time-damaged ancient figures. A series of Greco-Roman heads, torsos, hands and feet adorns the walls, while large Egyptian and Roman torsos, standing on plinths, accentuate the rhythm of the pilasters. Rodin’s work entitled Triton and Nereid is presented on an antique stand among a group of Roman marbles – a reproduction of an installation shown at the Hôtel Biron during the artist’s lifetime. In a display case, numerous small antiques of various origins and materials illustrate the collector’s eclectic tastes.
The return of painting to the Hôtel Biron
The thousands of objects in Rodin’s bequest included about 200 paintings. The sculptor had purchased some of these, such as the works by Van Gogh, but had acquired many others by exchanging works with his painter friends; Monet’s Belle-Île is probably the most famous example of this. These works provide insight into Rodin’s taste and a glimpse of his personal and professional relationships with his contemporaries. When the Hôtel Biron reopens, the museum display will include 50 paintings, most of which are rediscoveries, either because they have undergone major restoration work (like The Belleville Theater) or because they had hardly ever been taken out of the storerooms. These works are now presented throughout the museum tour, and also in the stairwell: a first step before the publication of the catalogue of paintings.
A new room: the gallery of graphic arts
A new space – the gallery of graphic arts – has been created on the first floor of the museum. A simplified display system will provide a clearer view of the museum’s rich but generally little-known collections: almost 8,000 drawings, over 1,000 engravings, 11,000 photographs and 60,000 archive documents that shed a different, complementary light on Rodin’s aesthetic. This central gallery is devoted to small, special-theme exhibitions that will ensure the visibility of the collections; these events (whether related or not to the temporary exhibition program, museum news or special occasions) will provide a detailed insight into a range of original themes, sometimes concerning Rodin’s contemporaries or the artists of today.
The first presentation, on the occasion of the reopening, is devoted to the museum’s latest acquisitions: drawings, sculptures, photographs and manuscripts acquired between 2006 and 2015.