Rodin Museum attendance surges thanks to proximity of Barnes, renovations
November 12, 2012By Peter Crimmins
Monday was the birthday of Auguste Rodin, the groundbreaking French sculptor famous for "The Thinker" and "The Kiss."
The Rodin Museum on the Parkway in Philadelphia did not acknowledge the 172nd anniversary of the birth of its subject, outside of a brief mention of the date during a guided tour.
More significant for the small but muscular museum was not the awkwardly-numbered birthday, but that tour. It happens daily, and twice on weekend days. Since the galleries reopened in July after a few years of renovations, the number of visitors has nearly tripled.
"We've found that we really need two to three people at all times," said curator Jennifer Thompson. "We anticipated that for the summer, but it's really carrying into the fall, which is a very happy predicament to be in."
Before its renovation, the museum saw about 50,000 visitors annually. In the last four months, more than 40,000 people have come inside. That does not include the people who prefer to sit in the outdoor garden, sans ticket, to take in the fountained pool ringed with lavender.
Thompson attributes the increased traffic, in part, to the museum's immediate neighbor — the Barnes Foundation — which opened to international acclaim last summer. The landscaping of the Barnes and the Rodin were done by the same firm, Olin, which created continuity between the two.
Another factor is that the interior and exterior of the museum had the most thorough cleanup since the museum's founding in 1929. The sculptures that were originally placed outside were taken inside almost 40 years ago amid fears of corrosion from air pollution. The Philadelphia Museum of Art conserved those sculptures and replaced them in their original positions.
The final sculpture to be conserved is "The Burghers of Calais," a large outdoor sculpture of six men preparing themselves for sacrifice to save their town. The bronze suffered major corrosion.
Rodin shaped the figures and applied a patina to express suffering and martyrdom. Now the details of "The Burghers" are obscuring by drippy streaks of black and gray, representing the effects of air pollution and the oxidation of bronze and copper. It's gloomier than Rodin intended.
"Although the surface of the sculpture is very dramatic, it's very high contrast and the eyes look even more sunken," said conservator Kate Cuffari. "That contrast of dark and light was not an aesthetic that was intended."
Now under conservation inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the sculpture is expected to be put into place in the garden in December.