Permanent Collection - Musée Rodin


The Rodin Museum possesses about six thousand and six hundred sculptures. These works, in terracotta, plaster, bronze, marble, wax, molten glass, stoneware, etc, are shared between the Hôtel Biron in Paris, and the Villa des Brillants in Meudon. When the Museum was first established, it was decided to exhibit the finished marble and bronze sculptures in Paris, while the plasters would remain in Meudon as a testimony to the genesis of Rodin's works. The situation has not changed much since then. In Meudon, visitors can delve into the mysteries of artistic creation while at the Hôtel Biron they can admire the major works of the sculptor, skilfully arranged in the Museum rooms and the garden in a complementary game of reflections. The 1916 donation of marble and bronze sculptures has been enriched by gifts, acquisitions, casts made by the Museum (The Gates of Hell, Ugolino, etc) and finally deposits of works which belonged to the State and were placed in the Rodin Museum in 1919 or later. These include the two most famous works of the Museum, The Kiss and The Thinker.

Claudie Judrin

A sculptor does not draw like a painter. The former constructs, the latter envelops, with a line like Laurens or with hatching like Michelango, using a dry technique like Csaky or a soft one like Maillol. But whatever kind of strokes he adopts, the sculptor tends to search for space or volume. Rodin was no exception to this rule even though he sometimes disconcerted viewers. Accustomed to the drawings of a painter, the viewer expects to see a preliminary study for a work, and therefore a sculpture. The hybrid nature of great creators cannot follow such an easy rule, and Rodin drew as a sculptor but not for his sculpture.
Leaving aside the period when the artist had not yet reached his maturity, one comes to his dark romantic drawings, inspired by Dante or Baudelaire, but revised by a powerful imagination. Graphite, underlined by pen, is enhanced by sepia and sometimes violet ink wash, and highlighted by patches of gouache. The term reworking also applies to his method because he cut out an infinite number of drawings and pasted them on a sheet, worked on them and again, and fixed them to a third background. How can these changes of mind and successions of paper layers be interpreted if not through the eye of a sculptor? And what about certain silhouettes of damned souls cut out and placed on a sheet, to be then projected into space? It is true that a rapid glance would not be able to discern these artistic conjuring tricks which Rodin refused to divulge until 1897 in an album published by Goupil. The preface was written by his friend Octave Mirbeau who did not breathe a word about such practices but described the intimate aspect. What was then taken for a draft and what Rodin himself considered as research work, even though he agreed to publish it as such, has now found the place it deserves, at a time when people are avid for anything new. Today, it is possible to understand Rodin's boldness since the scandal has now won acclaim. Is this dramatic drawing from the end of the 19th century better accepted at the end of the 20th century? What is certain is that it has for long been highly appreciated by our neighbours across the Rhine.
During this time, and until his death, Rodin was also fascinated by architecture. The cathedrals of France attracted him as soon as his official commissions left him some free time, and as soon as The Gates of Hell became an integral and permanent part of his work. He wandered along the roads of his country incessantly, from Touraine to Aveyron, from Brittany to Burgundy, covering his sketch books with drawings of consoles, pilasters and mouldings of churches. Throughout his life Rodin paid tribute to the most modest monuments of the French provinces, even though he was convinced that he was one of the last artists to study French Romanesque and Gothic masterpieces, as he wrote to Romain Rolland in September 1914, when his illustrations for The Cathedrals of France were published, claiming that the fall of Rheims would be described in the same terms as the fall of Constantinople. With a pencil in his hand, the sculptor tirelessly attempted to solve the mystery of light and shade on stone, and constantly noted down the words "dark" and "fair", depending on the degree of light penetrating the hollow of a moulding. It was always the sculptor at work, searching for a relief, a protrusion, a projection. Unlike Bourdelle, he had difficulty in working as an architect but wanted to discover the secrets of the anonymous builders of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
This taste for the Ancients accompanied him all his life even though the style of his drawings changed in the 1890s; the more modern they became the more incomprehensible they were to those around him. He always gave the human body the place of honour, like most sculptors, but it started by being asexual, with woman gradually becoming his unique model. His drawings then became confident and generous, full of light and serenity. Rodin escaped from his own Hell with the help of a pencil. His was a visual revolution which observed and calmed down in front of Nature, penetrating it with the quiet persistency of a voyeur.
He reworked his vocabulary with a concern comparable to that of Renoir when the latter suddenly felt he had come to a dead end unless he returned to the line of Ingres. No pose discouraged Rodin and woman is represented in all her conditions on his white sheet of paper. The aim was not to perfect a face, a hand or a foot, all that mattered was the movement, the attitude, the gesture. The public could not understand his drawings and accused him of leaving them unfinished. Instead of getting lost in an analysis of detail, Rodin observed the fundamental intently, searching for expressive meaning in the manner of the Japanese prints he had seen at the Goncourts. His graphite pencil, often used in one stroke, was heightened by a blurring with the thumb to model the shapes or by a splash of gouache or watercolour on one side or the other of the line to make the body stand out of a two-dimensional sheet of paper, perceived by the sculptor in three dimensions. It is only through the magic of volume that a woman appears to be seated or lying down, for there is never the hint of a chair or a bed. The illusion of space is perfect and the eye is not distracted by accessories. Our era was to be swept through that door. Rodin again cut out his silhouettes of women in order to give an impression of relief but it is almost superfluous for it is so rare to find such a light hand in a modeller. A painter presses to express himself, a sculptor encircles his subject.
Hopefully his sketches will give a clear idea of the drawing of a sculptor who made nearly ten thousand of them. Let us not deny ourselves the pleasure of learning to read behind the lines. Rodin, the symbolist, will lead us by the hand.
Owing to their fragility, the seven thousand drawings or so belonging to the Museum need to be kept in boxes in the dark and are therefore only displayed in rotation for three months at a time in a small room devoted to them, on the ground floor of the Hotel Biron. Light, the great enemy of works on paper, is kept at a very low intensity, in conformity with international conservation standards.

Claudie Judrin

Rodin painted before he sculpted and throughout his youth seemed to hesitate between the two disciplines. His original liking for drawing encouraged him to try oils. He must have learnt human anatomy at the Petite Ecole in the rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine. The nudes used in the studios were his first models c.1855. Then there were portraits including those of family and friends : Rodin’s father Jean-Baptiste, one of his friends Abel Poulain and Mme Rodin. He even did a SeIfportrait later on when he was between thirty and forty years old. In his painting he was not much drawn to animaIs as a subject, except for a Horse which he saw at the Saint-Marcel market when he was in digs at 96 rue Lebrun in 1864.
Is there any means of learning how to paint without copying! In Belgium where Rodin took refuge after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 he took great pleasure in copying Rubens paintings such as the Crucifixion after the Coup de Lance at Antwerp museum. The Forest of Soignes near Brussels was a favourite resort between 1871 and 1877. Working from nature he produced many small landscape compositions glued onto cardboard, very free in their inspiration, reminiscent in style of the Lyons landscapist Auguste Ravier, a precursor of Impressionism, discreet in their appeal but not devoid of boldness.
On his return from Belgium Rodin Found himself obliged to take on decorative work at the Sèvres porcelain factory. At the same period the etcher Alphonse Legros, who had taken refuge in London, taught him how to use drypoint on copper, the technique closest to drawing. Rodin joined Legros in England in 1881 and a plate engraved on either side by the two men shows how closely they worked together. Rodin’s Cupids Leading the World is matched by a scored-through, probably unique study of a Woman’s Head by Legros. A woman, cupids and centaurs aIl form part of the familiar repertory of the creator of The Gates of Hell. Whether he was working as a sculptor, a ceramicist, a graphic artist or an engraver,the themes were the same.
The success of his busts and his total mastery of drypoint prompted Rodin to engrave after his sculptures. He did not scruple to “assemble profiles

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