Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The most august sculptor of them all?

Rodin study. Pen on A5 paper
Six full days – four gallery visits: not a bad rate for a trip that had, having restfulness as a key aim, only been planned with two such outings in mind.

The thing with Paris, though, is not so much that it has lots of galleries, but rather that so many of them have so many excellent works.

We were always going to begin with the Musée d’Orsay – since it was the last of the city’s ‘big three’ that we had not yet managed to get inside.

We’d ‘done’ the Louvre before – well, when I say “done”, I mean visited one section: the one that lies in the opposite direction to that containing a certain painting by Leonard da Vinci.

It was the first Sunday in July, which means free entry in many Paris galleries. We were early in the queue, but even as we passed into the main hall, those in front of us and the hordes behind were charging in one direction.

We didn’t need to discuss our own response, but turned, as one, away from the crowd and spent the morning peacefully wandering among the likes of Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck.

We had made an attempt, one December, to visit the d’Orsay, but had given up after shivering in a rain-sodden queue for rather too long.

So first thing on Tuesday morning, armed with a weather forecast of rain and pre-paid tickets on our respective phones, we headed along the river in the hope of beating the inevitable queues.
Not only were we out of luck with the queues, but a technical hitch had hit the museum, delaying opening.

We gave up, had a coffee and mused over the vexed question of what to do.

Eventually, it dawned that we could take advantage of the rain’s tardiness in arriving to wend our way over to the Musée Rodin, where the lovely gardens include wooden sun loungers.

Since we’ve visited before, we didn’t bother with the interior, but made straight for the gardens, just as the first drops fell.

After a few moments looking at the good Burghers of Calais (1884-1889), a bench under a vast tree afforded protection from the pitter-pattering above, and I pulled out the sketchbook for a rapid doodle.

The rain didn’t last long, and we ambled among the sculptures, with The Other Half paying particular attention to the vast The Gates of Hell (1880-1917).

The garden, which backs onto the house where he lived and worked for some years, offers a wonderful way to view castings of Rodin’s work.

Among a wide collection is also The Thinker (1880-1904), which was originally conceived of as one component of The Gates of Hell and can be seen there too, at the top of the sculptor’s monumental piece.

Monument to Balzac (1891-97) remains one of my personal favourites. It was only cast in bronze in 1930, 13 years after Rodin’s death. The original plaster model had been heavily criticised and then rejected by the Société des Gens de Lettres, which had originally commissioned it, leaving Rodin to take it home and keep it privately for the rest of his life.

In it, Rodin had aimed to capture the writer’s personality rather than creating a photographically lifelike image, and it’s not difficult to see why it’s often regarded as the first real modern sculpture.

I love the attitude – the authority of the writer – that screams out from it. It seems improbable that Balzac himself would not have infinitely preferred Rodin’s vision to something more conventional and, inevitably, staid.

Rodin Musée gardens, rapid ink sketch
We lunched at the café in the gardens – a very nice, fresh and simple salad of tomato, cucumber and basil, with a very small amount of mozzarella, and a light dressing of oil for me – before I tried a sketch of The Thinker.

Unfortunately, my tiny sketchbook was proving inadequate for anything of any scale – particularly if it involved live figures – and while the sculpture is recognisable, my efforts at capturing the crowds thronging around were rewarded with one clunky, badly-proportioned sightseer, which was scribbled over the top of something that had been going ever more miserably.

Such are the perils of artistic endeavour.

Later that day, after a light supper in the garret, I was able to spend considerably more time in drawing a study from a phone photo of one of the sculptures, and I was subsequently rewarded by a retweet from the museum itself.

All sketching and drawing at present is retraining and training my eye, but that exercise had the added advantage of making me more aware of Rodins extraordinary ability to capture of musculature – and effectively provided something a life-drawing experiment too.

So if we were disappointed to have our attempts to visit the d’Orsay thwarted once more, the Rodin Musée proved – were it needed – the value of revisiting a gallery.

Rodin’s work easily rewards more than one look, and the gardens provide a wonderful way in which to view many of the works. Somehow, I doubt that last week will be our last visit.


  1. Great account of your Paris museum adventures, Amanda. I've encountered similar situations in: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and London (Tate Modern). I really enjoy your knack for creating an atmosphere - believe me, I'd kill to have that salad you had in the garden! I'll bookmark your blog and visit frequently.

    1. Many thanks Salvador: and you're most welcome!