After three years of work, the Rodin Museum’s renovated public gardens are bringing a new sense of splendor to the Parkway.
On July 14, 1789, French insurgents stormed the gates of the Bastille. This medieval prison and fortress was the primary symbol of French royal power, and its fall marked the deterioration of the Ancien Régime and the beginning of the French Revolution.
Some 222 years later, on a gorgeous morning in Philadelphia, local friends and art patrons stormed the gates of the Rodin Museum. Well, really, they walked, astutely, through the French inspired limestone archways.
Nonetheless, this too was the marking of a ceremonious event — the completion of a three-year renovation project to the museums’ grounds and gardens.
The Rodin Museum, located along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, is home to one of the largest collections of works by French sculptor Auguste Rodin, and has been a beacon of art and culture since its opening in November 1929. Originally born through the vision of collector and philanthropist Jules Mastbaum, and executed through the talents of French architect Paul Cret and landscape designer Jacques Gréber, the museum and its surrounding gardens is a celebrated tribute to both fine art and to a city dedicated to the support and maintenance of culture in daily life.
The renovation project, a $20 million endeavor, was brought to fruition through funding from the state and city, as well as the Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation.
OLIN, one of the nation’s premier landscape design firms, oversaw the project, working closely with the intent of Gréber’s original French design, straying only to provide the gardens with more practical, indigenous species. Improvements such as restructured pathways, improved lighting, benches, and better irrigation and lawn control, have transformed the once overgrown and trampled ground into a truly wonderful, inspired space.
On Thursday morning, in the shaded area surrounding a 1926 cast of Rodin’s famous sculpture, The Thinker, a group of visitors and supporters gathered for an opening reception of the rejuvenated gardens. A light breeze swelled as key leaders of the city and the Rodin project welcomed the guests and celebrated this final stage of transformation.
“Great cities deserve great gardens,” said Timothy Rub, director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “They are an essential part of the urban experience and in this regard, Philadelphia is truly blessed … Through shared goals, we can achieve great things … and this project is about stewardship; renewing a great institution and preserving it for our future generations.”
Following the opening ceremony, guests moved through the archway into the magnificently restructured courtyard, complete with a shallow pool and fountain, symmetrically designed gardens and stairs leading to the Rodin’s haunting entrance, The Gates of Hell.
Guided tours were conducted by OLIN landscape architect Susan Weiler, whose knowledge and passion were evident as she led guests through the garden’s intimate pathways, explaining the project’s goal of restoring cohesiveness along the Parkway, which was also designed by Gréber, and connects Philadelphia’s major museums and artistic institutions.
As the Rodin is famous for its bronze, marble and plaster sculpture, efforts continue to place these pieces in their intended locations in and around the museum. Already, the breathtaking Burghers of Calais has been moved outdoors to the museum’s east side, creating a wonderful garden alcove. And there will be more to come as the Rodin closes in September for interior renovations and the Ben Franklin Parkway continues its rejuvenation project through 2012, ending with the relocation of the Barnes’ Foundation just steps away from the Rodin Museum.
“Today, we are standing in a spot that has been illustrated time and time again as classic image of Philadelphia. This is a place the world equates with our city: green, dappled with life, intimate, and most important, inviting, said Gail Harrity, president and COO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The Rodin Museum is located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 22nd Street. The garden is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and there is no fee for tours.
For more information, visit www.rodinmuseum.org or call (215) 568-6026.••