At the turn of the 20th century, two French architects, Paul Cret and Jacques Greber, designed the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Then, they turned their attention to create a museum which would house one of the most important collections of Rodin sculptures outside of Paris. Today, the parkway is compared to the Champs Elysee. And this corner of the city feels, to me, decidedly Parisian. Perhaps this explains why I gravitate to this enclave each time we return to Philadelphia.
On our prior visits, we walked the gardens, relaxed in the shade, and enjoyed a handful of Rodin’s most renowned pieces which are positioned outdoors. The garden is free; peaceful in the winter and downright beautiful with the first blossoms of spring. The outdoor sculptures include one of the first bronze casts of The Gates of Hell (the other being in the Rodin Museum in Paris) as well as the most famous piece of all, at least to me – a Dobie Gillis product of the 60s, The Thinker.
On this trip, the tourist bureau of Philadelphia graciously sent me a free museum pass. With all the business of the holidays, we struggled to carve out time to tour the endless possibilities of museums included in the pass. One morning, with a few hours to spare, I suggested to Pat and Ryan, “How about the Rodin?” Ryan, five years after moving to Philadelphia, had yet to visit the interior space of the museum. We set off for a brief break.
Inside, the museum is composed of one exceptionally large gallery with massive windows on either end. This creates a melding of the outside and inside into a single, expansive space. The windows each frame one of the larger statues in the garden. In the center of the gallery is perhaps Rodin’s most sensual statue, The Kiss. It exemplifies the beauty I associate with Rodin. As I gaze at this statue, it appears to be breathing.
Three smaller galleries line the back wall. The most interesting of these is a tribute to the works Rodin created to memorialize the French author, Honore de Balzac. In one statue, which is also on display in Paris, Rodin tried to capture the spirit, versus the physical appearance, of the author; chin defiant, long hair unruly and draped from shoulder to floor in a cape like coat.
The Rodin provided the perfect hour-long escape, and in this hour, we experienced a comprehensive selection of one of the most famous sculptures in the world. If you want to extend your visit, partner this with a trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum which administers the Rodin. Purchase a combination ticket which will enable you to visit both museums over two days.
Should you come to Philadelphia on a tight budget, the Rodin offers a “pay what you can” option. I mentioned to Pat that I couldn’t imagine paying 50 dollars for such a short visit when our children were young. This option provides an affordable means for a family to experience world-class art and not strain the budget. Kudos to Philadelphia for providing this access.
Whatever you can afford to pay, I highly recommend the Rodin. With a bit of imagination, for and hour or so, you will be transported to a corner of the city which just might be Paris. And honestly, what could be better than that?
Categories: The United States