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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
I last visited Paris in 2021 when these photos were taken