The whole thing reads like a Nancy Drew mystery:
An intern is hired in Madison, New Jersey to archive the artwork in the borough hall.
It’s not just any collection though. This collection is owned by the Hartley Dodge Foundation. Marcellus Hartley Dodge was the heir to the Remington-Rockefeller fortune until he died in 1930 in a car accident in France at the age of 22. The town hall bears his name.
‘Nancy’ hones in on a marble bust of Napoleon in the corner of the meeting room. One day she rubs her hands along the base, feels something, pulls out her cell phone, illuminates a signature.
The trustees are doubtful. This is impossible, right? But Nancy is undeterred.
She writes letters.
And receives an answer.
From a former employee of the Rodin Museum in Paris, Jerome Le Blay, who agrees to fly over.
“There you are,” he says as he enters the room, “I’ve been looking for you.” The signature, and further tests, confirm his assessment.
The statue is unique, the only political or military work created by Rodin. And for 85 years it’s been hidden in plain view.
Nancy is a hero. But with a secret to keep.
A secret valued at 4 to 12 million dollars.
Flash forward 2 years to last month and the announcement of the discovery. Provenance is complete and traces the statue to Ethel Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge, Hartley Dodge’s mother, who bought it anonymously at auction in 1933. Prior to that, the statue had been on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
The Hartley Dodge foundation has decided to place the Napoleon on loan to the Philadelphia Art Museum in time for the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death on November 17th.
Fatefully, I read of this discovery last month while we were in Philadelphia. So I went to The Rodin Museum–the only dedicated Rodin Museum in the US and the second largest Rodin collection in the world outside of Paris.
The statue’s final resting spot is undecided, but the woman I spoke with at the Rodin Museum hopes it’s there. So do I.
The Philadelphia Rodin Museum is a beautiful venue that was built in 1927 specifically to house the private collection of movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum. The space and the grounds showcase the artist’s works so perfectly. It’s an oasis in what can be a grinding city.
By the first Sunday in November, I was back in Paris and took advantage of the free admittance offered at the Paris Rodin Museum every first Sunday from October through March. The building is beautiful, but I go for the gardens: The Thinker. Balzac. The Gates of Hell. The Burghers of Calais.
It doesn’t take my breathe away but rather allows me to catch my breath. Especially on a flawless fall day. In a city where museums can be maddening.
November 17th, The Rodin Museum in Paris will be free for a second time this month to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Rodin’s death. And his life. And his works.
A few days earlier, a man on our flight from Philly to Paris had asked me what one thing he should do on this his third trip to Paris.
“Have you been to the Rodin?” I asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Then do that,” I said.
If you find yourself in Paris, or Philly, I suggest you stop by too.
Note: The Napoleon statue will be placed in the Philadelphia Art Museum. (Yes. The museum Rocky made famous when he bounded up the steps). The Rodin Museum is nearby and is part of Philadelphia Art Museum organization, but is a separate building. Make sure you visit both!
Categories: A year in Paris