It’s embarrassing to tell you that as a lifelong Philadelphian, I’ve never visited the Rodin Museum on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway until this month. It’s only been here since 1929 and was renovated in 2012. For years, I walked by admiring Rodin’s “The Thinker” outside. A few times, I climbed the steps to peek inside the gates at the garden when it was closed saying “It looks lovely, I’ll visit another time”. Last week, with my stay at The Logan Hotel, I finally made The Rodin Museum my top destination. Now it joins my Hidden Philadelphia series along with other great art galleries like The Magic Gardens and The Portrait Gallery.
One of the well-known sculptures by Auguste Rodin is “The Thinker” and a medium-sized version sits outside the museum. Lesser known is that the Philadelphia Rodin Museum houses the largest collection of Rodin outside of Paris (I was surprised by this interesting tidbit but it was gifted by a local collector, Jules Mastbaum). I really had no idea of what to expect during my visit.
Rodin Museum Gardens
One of the more interesting parts of Philadelphia is the architecture (definitely take an Architecture tour on your next visit). One of my favorites is the Beaux Arts architecture in the city – a bit of France in Philly. At the Rodin Museum, you are greeted by the French garden as you enter the gates along with the impressive building. With a reflecting pool and a garden of sculptures it is a relaxing space off of the Parkway.
Both sides of the entrance are flanked by Rodin statues. Throughout the garden there are large and small pieces of art. The side sculptures are quite massive, even more so are the feet (or at least they seemed to be massive in comparison to the bodies). Overall the garden houses eight pieces by Rodin and is free during operating hours (10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday to Monday) if you want to enjoy a tranquil spot in the city.
Rodin Museum Entrance
As you ascend the few steps, you are faced with “The Gates of Hell” an impressive sculpture that consumed my of the artist’s life to create (nearly 40 years!). This is one of three pieces that remain in the same spot as when the museum opened in 1929. What I didn’t realize at first was that many of the figures in the Gates of Hell are also showcased on their own as well, like “The Thinker” who is in the middle at the top. Pushing the doors open to enter the museum, I instantly felt the air conditioning which was a welcome relief from the sauna of an August day in Philadelphia (high 90s with heat index over 100F/40c). The small entry way served as both the admission & information desk as well as the small shop with all things Augustus Rodin and a bit of Paris thrown in (think Eiffel Towers). The Rodin Museum is a pay what you want museum but the suggested price is $10 adult. My friend and I thought $10 was a bargain and each paid the suggested price.
Rodin Museum Gallery
As we entered the gallery, I could see through the doorways the art – it was impressive with art arranged along the walls and in each of the rooms. This intimate space is quite easy to navigate and hard to get physically lost in (you might get lost in the art but that’s a different story). You can admire the pieces (approximately 140) for as long as you want and take photos with relative ease without people in your way. There is also a “free” family guide in one of the rooms along with seating if you need a break or want to unleash your inner artist to sit and sketch with the pencils and paper provided.
The staff wander about the rooms to see if anyone had questions they could answer. It was a nice touch given the small space. Other visitors were using the free Rodin app from iTunes to guide their visit. Despite the size, the gallery never felt too crowded as folks milled about on their own. It was a good mix of visitors on the hot August Saturday – couples, solos, families each interested in the art.
Rodin used soft clay to begin many sculptures and then used plaster or bronze to create a finished piece. With sculptures both big and small, you can see Rodin’s artistry in the various textures and realism of the art. One piece “Daniad (The Source)” looks like an unfinished woman but is an example of the many textures – smooth, shiny, rough used to create his art.
Texture places a big part in the work that I viewed – I wanted to touch the shiny smooth pieces and was fascinated by the rough and sharp realistic touches in other figures. Rodin was known to use everyday people as his models – he studied how they moved and captured them quite realistically in my opinion. I swear one piece was watching me with its eyes!
Rodin – The Hands Have It
It was almost eerie to see the many hand sculptures. Hands can be so personal and yet without words convey so much. Just think of everyday life – couples holding hands, children holding hands with their parents, using your hands to convey frustration during the daily commute. Without a word your hands are talking. If you are like me, your hands are moving constantly as you talk. In the Rodin Museum, the artist was fascinated with hands “he thought they were one of the most interesting parts of the body”.
Kissed by Rodin
Another famous sculpture by Rodin is “The Kiss”. In the gallery of the Rodin Museum is a copy of “The Kiss” by Henri Greber.
Rodin thought hands told a story in so many ways and yet in a kiss, what story is there to tell? “The Kiss” is about doomed lovers so I looked at so many other pieces with couples and wondered what story they had to tell – kisses of love, lust, betrayal? I was drawn to “Eternal Springtime” with the hope of love and possibility. These lovers didn’t appear in the Gates of Hell so I had some hope.
A Penny for Your Thoughts – The Rodin Museum
Rodin said “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain…but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes”. The Rodin Museum is definitely a museum to make you think about the art – how it is envisioned, how it is crafted, and what story it tells. Do spend more time before and after your visit to look carefully at The Gates of Hell to see if you can find all of the smaller pieces. If you want to have a nice change of pace from the larger museums, there are a few hidden collections in Philadelphia to admire and inspire you. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia is one of my Hidden Philadelphia Gems so add it to your “to do” list of Art in Philadelphia. I have the app and will be back! I hope you plan your visit too!