On Saturday, we were in the city for other reasons but decided to build in a jaunt to the Rodin Museum. There are still (after 5 years of living here) several Philadelphia museums I have yet to visit and the Rodin was among them so I was glad to have the opportunity to check it off the list. The building, which dates from the interwar period, is charming and its grounds are a little oasis of plants and water and calm in the city. There were people relaxing in the courtyard with a book and I can well imagine it being a superb space in which to wile away some time and unwind.
The basis of the museum is the collection of one man, apparently an avid fan of Auguste Rodin’s work. It houses many of the sculptor’s most famous works. Indeed, one of the dozen versions of his most celebrated work – The Thinker – greets visitors outside the museum. I have seen versions of The Thinker before – at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow and I think the National Gallery in Washington DC – but this was the best version I have seen. The thing I really appreciate about Rodin’s sculptures are the rough hewn textures, the sense of weight in the bodies, the torsion in the poses. Being able to see a large scale version of The Thinker up close I could really observe the grip of the toes on the pedestals, the pressure of the elbow on the thigh, the weight of the chin on the raised hand.
The interior space of the museum is compact but well lit and the contents are displayed thoughtfully. There were, of course, lots of smaller works by Rodin. I especially liked some busts. However, there were also some sculptures by other artists who were either inspired by Rodin or were competitors of Rodin. There was an excellent Picasso piece and a charming piece depicting an embrace between a sailor and a female figure that my 9 year old was especially drawn to. The boys, incidentally, were not especially enthused by this particular trip. Our 13 year old and our 9 year old were pretty engaged and enjoyed seeing the sculptures but the 16 and 12 year old’s were totally switched off. Thankfully the museum had some benches for them to plonk themselves on while the rest of us milled about.
In truth, the best pieces in the collection are all housed outside the museum and can, therefore, be accessed for free. We were, therefore, lucky that we had visited on a free entry day. The Gates of Hell is on a wall beside the building’s doors. It was fascinating seeing the miniature versions of various sculptures within the composition. The Burghers of Calais (one of a dozen castings) is in the grounds. It depicts a scene from The Hundred Years’ War and being able to get up close to the figures meant I could really see the way Rodin was conveying the sense of defeat, dejection, and humiliation in their faces and sagging bodies. My favourite of the pieces in the collection was also within the grounds. I love the composition of The Three Shades and the way the three male figures combine to form a single, almost organic shape and I also really like the rendering of the musculature in the poses, even if the angles of the necks are wholly unnatural.
Philly is actually a great city for public art generally, from transitory installations to diverse sculptures to the fantastic murals covering the sides of buildings and walls to monuments and memorials. We encountered a few of these on our wanderings on Saturday and really I should try to plan out a few walking tours so we can see a lot more of this public art. I am now also keen to return to the Philadelphia Art Museum.
I had no idea that there was a Rodin Museum in Philadelphia. I have visited the Rodin Museum in Paris multiple times and absolutely loved it. I too was drawn to the pieces that were displayed outdoors in the garden–there is something special about seeing sculpture in an outdoor setting, where changes in the light or the seasons can often affect the viewing experience.
Yes, I think the lighting picks out angles and details and the outdoor placement also permits being able to walk around the entire piece.
Thanks. It was short and sweet.
Great post! Thank you,
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Thank you, Krisje!
Yes, I have been to the Rodin Museum in Paris too and had no idea there was one anywhere else. I always feel ambivalent about these one-person collections (including the Burrell of course). It’s great that we can all see them now, but the concentration of wealth that produced them makes me squirm.
I completely agree, Anabel, especially when we consider that there are significant works of art and archaeology squirreled away in private collections that don’t permit public access.
I have to say this museum left me cold, I’ve been twice and that’s my verdict. But, I have fond memories of it anyway because my son went to day care a couple of blocks away almost 30 years ago and they brought the kids over several times a week for outdoor play. He knew who Mr Thinker was at about age two or three. !!!
It’s a very compact and focused collection which is a more generous way of saying it’s skimpy. I’d have been disappointed had I had to pay for six people to enter to be done and dusted so quickly – and with the kapow pieces being freely accessed outdoors to boot. I’m glad I did it this once but I doubt I’ll feel compelled to return.
Fun post! Would have loved to tag along in person. There’s a museum in WA where I live that has a large Rodin collection too – and I have enjoyed the textures/kinesthetic sense of his work. In the museum here they also have some of his preliminary sketches – so it’s added fun to see the stages of his thinking. Thanks for sharing!!
It would be fascinating to see the sketches. I always find it interesting to see how 3D thinkers translate those creative thoughts into 2D plans and preliminary sketches are always interesting.
It is enlightening to see the evolution of a 3D thinkers creative thoughts. The Rodin sketches are at the Maryhill Art Museum – I looked at the website – https://www.maryhillmuseum.org/ – just in case they had photos of some of the sketches online but I don’t see them. Anyway the website may still be interesting to you.