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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of Auguste Rodin and the Musée Rodin in Paris

What is the Musée Rodin?

The Musée Rodin is a charming art museum in Paris that is dedicated to the life and work of Auguste Rodin, generally considered to be the father of modern sculpture.

Musée Rodin

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Musée Rodin History

‘He is by far the greatest poet in France’, wrote Oscar Wilde of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Perhaps he exaggerates for effect, but if Rodin’s status as France’s greatest poet is contentious, his status as the founder of modern sculpture is assured. His dominant style was naturalistic, and he was particularly skilled in capturing not only physical and facial character, but also emotion expressed in the moment. He is one of a handful of sculptors whose renown extends beyond the sphere of the visual arts.

Having trained in sculpture, Rodin failed three times to gain entry to the École des Beaux-Arts, the influential art school that counted many distinguished practitioners amongst its alumni, including Edgar Degas and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Undeterred by the setback, Rodin forged a successful sculpting career, transforming a medium that had not progressed much in the 19th century. His technique was to model his works in clay, which his diligent assistants would copy in plaster. From these he cast his magnificent works in bronze.

Dedicated to Rodin’s impressive career, this charming museum is housed in the Hôtel Biron, an 18th-century mansion. The Hôtel Biron had a variety of different owners until it was sold to a religious community of women from the Société du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, who turned the building into a boarding school for girls from aristocratic families. In 1904, the religious society was dissolved due to a law, invoking the post-Revolution French principle of separation of church and state, which prevented religious orders from teaching. The sisters were evicted and the building was put up for sale.

While the mansion awaited a buyer, the French state subdivided the building and rented the rooms out cheaply to help prevent it from rot and decay. Quick as a flash, artists moved in, among them Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse and Isadora Duncan. The sculptor Clara Westhoff told Rodin about the scheme and he rented four ground-floor rooms in 1908. He fell in love with the Hôtel Biron, but in 1911 the property was officially sold to the French government, and all the artists were evicted.

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