Renovated Rodin Museum to Reopen

PARIS -- At first glance, the Hôtel Biron looks largely unchanged from its three-year renovation, which concludes this month.

Art collectors of ArtKabinett social media network are excited to preview the grand renovation, financed in part by the recasting of some newly discovered molds, reported here yesterday.

Within the interior, possessing enough exhibition space for 600 works spread across 18 rooms, the Musée Rodin has undergone a structural makeover to recreate the period when the artist worked in a south-facing, ground-floor studio.

This has been the first major renovation ever for the two-story Hôtel Biron, which stands within a seven-acre formal garden in view of the golden dome of Les Invalides.

The museum has been closed since January as part of a three-year construction project that is nearing completion, with a public reopening scheduled for Rodin’s birthday, Nov. 12.

Built in 1732, the mansion housed a wealthy wig maker and financial speculator, then waves of aristocrats until 1820 when it was turned into a Catholic boarding school before the French state took possession.

After it was put up for sale in 1905, the building was ultimately rented out to artists and became a refuge for tenants like Rodin; his lover, Camille Claudel; Henri Matisse; and the dancer Isadora Duncan, among others.

Rodin began renting studio space there in 1908 and worked there until the end of his life.

Before he died in 1917, he negotiated the agreement with the French state, which still owned the building, to turn it into a museum. It now attracts 700,000 visitors annually, 80 percent of them foreign tourists.

Using black-and-white photographs from that period, the curators have recreated Rodin’s spacious studio. The salon is filled with Rodin’s busts displayed on his original wooden pedestals, a 14th-century figure of the Virgin Mary from his collection, bronze Japanese incense burners and a newly renovated tapestry screen behind which his models disrobed.

Rodin's studio is being reinstalled, piece by piece. Credit Guia Besana for The New York Times
Throughout the mansion, the architects have followed the same meticulous approach. Workmen disassembled the creaky oak parquet floors on two levels, which were braced and put back together again with original parts and wooden nails.

An English paint company, Farrow & Ball, burrowed through layers of wall paint to unearth the original colors from Rodin’s time, which were shades of gray with blue and green tones.

As reported yesterday, the sales of newly cast Rodin bronzes are helping to finance the $17.7 million restoration of the Rodin Museum, where cracks in the walls have appeared over the decades and where the oak parquet floors have warped with the weight of sculptures including the marble lovers entwined in “The Kiss.”

The French government has contributed 49 percent of the money for the renovation. In addition, the museum received a donation of $2.2 million to pay for new displays from an American collector, Iris Cantor.

It was the first gift of that size for the museum, which is also experimenting with new forms of fund-raising so it is not overly reliant on sculpture sales.

Museum officials have organized a “1 Euro for 1 Rodin” campaign, in which visitors were asked to support art acquisitions. Officials are also considering a crowdfunding plan to support renovations of the formal garden.

The aim of the restoration, according to the museum’s architects, is to evoke the creative atmosphere that inspired the sculptor, who retreated here because, he said, “my eyes encounter grace, sitting here surrounded by light.”

The makeover features more natural light, new colors and the reappearance of Rodin’s personal art collection, which also includes ancient Greek sculpture fragments.

The museum also has other grand plans: an $11 million restoration of the gardens surrounding the mansion and an $8.8 million renovation at the site of Rodin’s former home in Meudon, outside Paris.

Today's homepage Featured Art Video recaps the extensive renovation project of the Musée Rodin.