Stumbling away from the mass of tourists still surrounding the Louvre and filling the central courtyard, I make my way in the bright sunlight towards Pont de la Concorde and decide to walk to Musee Rodin – my next stop on this Free Museum Day in Paris. If I really want to save time, maximizing the amount of museums I can fit into the day, I should take le Metro. However, there hasn’t been a lot of visible sun since I’ve been in Paris. I prefer to soak up every moment I can, pondering the great sculptor whose works I’ve admired since I was a girl, as I make my way to Rue de Varenne.
It’s not as easy as I think it will be. The way Paris streets twist and turn, nothing is ever as simple as it looks on Google Maps. However, I’m on the edge of my beloved Saint-Germain-des-Prés – the architecture is beautiful and that warm sun is still shining. My thoughts stray to François-Auguste-René Rodin as my feet navigate the cobblestone and uneven pavement. I’m smiling, saying “Bonjour” to the people I share the narrow sidewalks with as we weave around one another trying not to end up in the street when a car passes. When someone replies, I’m truly on cloud nine.
Rodin has fascinated me since I saw a copy of The Thinker outside the DIA as a young girl. I was pouting because my family had moved from Vermont to Michigan and I didn’t like it – I buried myself in a love of art to mend my wounds. I’m not sure I ever fully emerged from that burial. I also discovered Diego Rivera and his great frescoes in the Rivera Court that day. Passionate art like that, all in one day, is bound to change a person and both men led such controversial personal lives. I think one of the aspects of Rodin’s life that has always by equal points saddened and fascinated me is that he didn’t marry his longtime love Rose Beuret – until the last year of both their lives. His affair with Camille Claudel gets most of the press. How can one look at The Kiss and not wonder about its creator and that artist’s own loves? When all is said and done, it’s the staggering dichotomy in his complete body of work that most intrigues me. From the more classical forms found in The Kiss which seem inspired by the Italian artists who preceded him, to his looser sketches and busts and the almost ferocity of The Gates of Hell … he has almost seemed to me as long as I’ve enjoyed his work: like two artists, in one. I might be alone in my theory and I wonder if it will change at all when I enter Musee Rodin.
Finally turning onto Rue de Varenne, it’s The Burghers of Calais that I spot first through glass walls which separate the massive garden of the museum from the neighborhood which surrounds it. Excitement swells in my chest! I’ve seen work by Rodin so many times, yet I already know being here will be different.
Sadly, much of the garden is closed off in preparation for Paris Fashion Week. I find myself intensely jealous of the people who will see a fashion show ON THE GROUNDS OF MUSEE RODIN!!
However, I still marvel at Ugolino in the reflection pool, walk around the house and see the versions of Victor Hugo in process, even have my picture taken by The Thinker. Outside, it is The Gates of Hell which I spend the most time at. Surely, I will kick myself later for not barreling through the throngs of tourists here for a few closeups. The way in which the figures leap from the gates is bone-chilling. Surely, it can’t be fully appreciated until seen in person. I wonder at his state of mind while he created this. Of all the disconcerting art I’ve seen in my lifetime – this is almost the most disturbing. I cannot help but feel awe. Sure, I have a thing for taking photographs in cemeteries – but to create something like this … it takes a different kind of artist.
Inside the house, even crowded, there is a quiet serenity. Worn wood walls and aged mirrors mingle with statues formed from clay, bronze and marble. There is a small collection of Van Gogh paintings. For a long time, I sit on a bench in one of the less compacted rooms staring out at the garden through the open French doors, enjoying the soft breeze and pondering Rodin and Paris. The city itself has its own contradictory aspects just like Rodin’s work. However, it is somewhere in all that contradiction that I find I love both – so much.
Suddenly, I remember today’s mission and leaving my peaceful post somewhat reluctantly … I decide on Musee d’Orsay as my next destination.
Part Three of Free Museum Day next week – where I reveal whether or not I made it to Musee d’Orsay and if I managed to squeeze more than 3 museums into one day in Paris!