Garden with statue and gold dome beyond
Art,  Paris

A visit to the Musée Rodin in Paris

Over breakfast on a damp Parisian morning we discussed our plans for the day. Maybe rather than a walk a museum visit would be a better option, given the weather?

So we went online and managed to book tickets for the Musée Rodin, which had been on my Paris ‘bucket list’ for some time. However by the time we were ready to go out the skies were already clearing. So instead of going directly to Varennes, the nearest stop to the museum, we got off the Metro on the Champs Elysees. From there we walked past the Grand and Petit Palais and across the Pont Alexandre III, with wonderful views and photo opps.

At the museum

This museum occupies the Hôtel Biron, where Rodin lived for the last decade of his life. He left the building and most of his sculptures to the French state in his will, to be used as a museum to display his work. The museum today is spread across a sculpture garden as well as many rooms of the house.

By the time we arrived it was mid-morning so we stopped for a drink in the café in the gardens before starting to explore. The gardens were attractive in their own right, as well as providing a lovely backdrop for the sculptures. Being early September some leaves had already started to turn; but there were still a few summer flowers, especially among a group of hydrangeas.

The gardens

After the early shower the weather was perfect for enjoying the gardens. They are dotted with sculptures and laid out in a formal French style for the most part, but with a less formal woodland walk to one side.

Highlights in the garden for me included:

The Thinker

We spotted this almost immediately on entry. This is one of Rodin’s most famous works and there are many casts around the world. It looked very striking here in the garden setting, with the golden dome of Les Invalides in the background.

Statue of man resting his chin on his hand
The Thinker
Statue of man resting his chin on his hand
Ugolino and his Sons

This forms the centrepiece of the ornamental pond at the far end of the garden. I owed my understanding of this work to my friend Don, who described it on his blog about the museum.

Statue group with bodies entwined
Ugolino and his Sons

Rodin’s sculpture is based on Dante’s telling of the story of Ugolino della Gherardesca, a 13th century Italian count. As Don so graphically explains:

On orders of his enemy, the Archbishop, Ugolino and his sons and grandsons were imprisoned in a tower and left there to starve to death, the keys having been thrown into the river.

This probably would have been forgotten as just another gruesome episode from Italian history, except that Dante Alighieri picked up on the story a quarter century later and used it in his Divine Comedy — in the Inferno part, of course. In Dante’s version, the dying children beg their father to eat their bodies after they have died, and he finally gets so desperate that he does so. For this crime of cannibalism (among other crimes) he is condemned to eternal torture in the ninth circle of hell — along with his enemy, the Archbishop.

Statue group in a pool with gold dome beyond
Ugolino and his Sons and Les Invalides
Statue group with bodies entwined
Ugolino and his Sons
The Burghers of Calais

These figures are dotted around the woodland area. I know the London grouping of the Burghers of course; but it was interesting to see them here larger and as separate statues. The burghers were six dignitaries of the city who went to hand over the keys of the city to the victorious King of England at the end of the siege of 1346-47 during the Hundred Years’ War. The museum website describes them thus:

Alone facing their destiny and death, they do not look at each other, do not touch. Simply dressed in a tunic, with a rope around their necks and bare feet, the condemned men begin their slow funeral march. Rodin gives each figure, studied naked before being draped in the condemned man’s tunic, a particular gesture and movement – from despair to abandonment, from confidence to resignation.

Sculpted head and hand
One of the Burghers of Calais
Sculpted figure among trees
Another of the Burghers of Calais
Sculpted head surrounded by trees
Another of the Burghers of Calais

The monument to Victor Hugo

This is also in the woodland area. It depicts him sitting on the rocks in Guernsey, where he lived in exile. The sign nearby explained that he is shown deep in thought, with his arm outstretched as though to calm the waves, and accompanied by the Tragic Muse.

Statue of man among trees
The Monument to Victor Hugo

Inside the house

After exploring the gardens we went into the house. On the whole I found the pieces here less engrossing. Maybe that was because there were too many of them to take in properly. Of course though I had to admire Le Baiser / The Kiss, another of Rodin’s most famous works. The version here is in white marble, whereas the one we had seen on our previous visit to Paris, in the Tuileries, is in bronze. I was also taken by La Tempête and L’Illusion, soeur d’Icare (sister of Icarus).

White marble statue of couple kissing
Le Baiser / The Kiss
White marble statue of tormented face
La Tempête
White marble statue of winged figure
L’Illusion, soeur d’Icare

I last visited Paris in 2021 when these photos were taken

34 Comments

  • Rose

    I appreciate all your posts about Paris, I’ve only been there once but I miss it like I miss a dear friend. I love all your photos, especially when they frame the Eiffel Tower.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Rose 🙂 I think many people feel the same about Paris, I know I do! I’m fortunate that we’re near enough to visit quite often, I must have been eight times now I think – the first in my teens (school exchange trip), the second for our honeymoon and a number of city breaks since for various reasons 😀

  • restlessjo

    We arrived late in the day and could only see the garden, and in retrospect that’s no bad thing. Sculpture is one of those things I experience overload with all too easily, remarkable though it absolutely is. I will go and look at Don’s explanations because understanding the work does help. But i was more than happy with your wonderfully scenic stroll.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      If you only saw the garden you saw the best of it imho! The house has a lot more pieces but mostly smaller and harder to appreciate, I thought, when you’re faced with a roomful! But I did like the marbles so it MAY be worth considering a return visit some time? Of course we were slightly spoiled by there being fewer people looking around, due to Covid (its only plus point!) so it might be harder to see them properly in ‘normal’ times.

  • Gradmama2011

    Lovely post, as always. I have never been to Paris, so greatly enjoy sight-seeing with you! As for Rodin’s The Thinker, that brought back memories that have nothing to do with Paris. Back in the day I worked at a university in Cleveland, Ohio, and lived in a working-woman-residence nearby. A wonderful short cut from work to home was through the grounds of the Cleveland Museum of Art…which featured near the entry a statue of The Thinker. I have many good memories of the time that I lived and worked there. ALSO…I my visit via your blog solved another mystery…which we have been discussing on the comments pages. I discovered the secret of the elephant photo, the little camera-looking thingy is the logo for Virtual Search…searching with a photo instead of text. Just for curiosity I clicked on the Rodin stature and “it” (Pinterest?) rewarded me with numerous shots of The Thinker, each with ID of the photographer. 🙂 I tried clicking on the shot of Churchill’s statue…nothing; but when I tried the main photo, and the “burghers” it showed up numerous sites. …..

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you, and I’m happy to have brought back such good memories for you 😀 Thanks too for the explanation of what was going on with that elephant photo, this makes it all clear now! I don’t see that Virtual Search ‘camera-looking thingy’ so it must be a setting you have on your browser perhaps? Or a Pinterest plug-in??

      • Gradmama2011

        Maybe a Pinterest setting. It’s a good place to save certain information, but it does seem invasive to me. I haven’t thought about applications of the app, but it does store some of the things I want to get back to. 🙂

  • Nemorino

    Thanks for quoting (and linking to) my explanation of Ugolino and his children.
    I very much like your photos, both of the Rodin Museum and of your walk to get there. I especially like your photos from the Alexandre III Bridge, like the Nymph of the Neva with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

  • Nancy Gordon

    I love traveling with you! And this time to beautiful Paris. It’s wonderful you were able to explore both inside the museum and outside on a beautiful day as well. Your photos are phenomenal! Thanks for sharing.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Nancy 😀 Yes, it was good to see both inside and out. We had to wear masks indoors and show our French health passes, but everything was fully open!

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