PHILADELPHIA – The Rodin Museum, a little jewel box of a building surrounded by formal gardens and showcasing the French artist's monumental sculptures, had by most accounts lost a certain je ne sais quoi in the 83 years since it was built.
Now, for the first time since the museum opened in 1929, the public will get to see it as its architects intended. The Rodin Museum reopens today after a more than three-year, $9 million renovation that returned all its sculptures to their original locations inside and out, refurbished almost all of them — only "The Burghers of Calais" has yet to be cleaned up — and restored the grounds' formal French garden, fountain and reflecting pool.
"It was long overdue," Timothy Rub, director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which runs the Rodin, said at a preview event Thursday. "We have a beautiful site and building and a great collection that had, frankly, lost some of its luster."
The inside galleries were rearranged to emphasize the way many figures in "The Gates of Hell" — Rodin's colossal masterwork that dominates the museum entrance — inspired his later iconic sculptures from "The Kiss" to "The Thinker." Behind the scenes, a new air-conditioning system will mean a swelter-free visit for summer tourists for the first time in decades.
Located between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the new Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the classical Beaux-Arts building contains the largest collection of Auguste Rodin's sculptures outside of the Musee Rodin's collections in Paris and Meudon. It was a gift to the city from movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum, who was introduced to Rodin's work during a 1923 trip to Paris.
Mastbaum hired two France-born architects living in Philadelphia, architect Paul Cret and landscape designer Jacques Greber, to create the limestone museum. Its holdings include more than 140 bronze, marble and plaster sculptures, plus drawings, prints, letters and books.
"Everything you see here, the interior in particular, is a true restoration of one of the most sophisticated buildings ever," curator Joseph Rischl said. "This is as sophisticated as a Parisian dress of 1929."
The Rodin Museum also houses a few works that were created by other artists.
Two small bronze heads, attributed to Rodin when Mastbaum purchased them, were later found to be the work of the artist's collaborator, muse and lover Camille Claudel. In addition, the Musee Rodin permitted Mastbaum to commission a copy of "The Kiss," one of Rodin's best-known works. The marble reproduction in Philadelphia was completed in 1929, 12 years after Rodin's death, by Jacques Greber's father, sculptor Henri Greber.
As is the case in museums around the world, the majority of the Rodin sculptures in Philadelphia's museum weren't cast in bronze until years after his death in 1917.