Art & Entertainment: Reaching Into the Mind of a Master With ‘Rodin’s Hands’

Text by John Branyan.

On Friday, Feb 4, the Rodin Museum opened its first new installation in three years, focusing on hands crafted by master sculptor Auguste Rodin.

Jennifer Thompson, the Gloria and Jack Drosdick curator of both European painting and sculpture and the John G. Johnson collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, introduced the new sculptures that comprise Rodin’s Hands and line the central gallery of the museum.

“There are many unique pieces here,” Thompson said. “Each piece tells a story itself and we hope visitors look more broadly at the meaning of Rodin’s work.”

The new exhibition focuses on the expressiveness of his works despite their narrow subject matter. Several of the hands on display also adorn Rodin’s larger works, allowing visitors to peek into the creative process that Rodin employed while crafting his most famous sculptures. Guests can even find certain hands on other pieces not related to the exhibit on display at the museum.

“Rodin often reused and repurposed these hands, and other pieces, for his other works,” Thompson said. “So, each is not defined by one meaning, and we hope visitors can see that.”

Originally planned for premier in 2021, Rodin’s Hands was pushed back a year due to COVID-19 restrictions. As the only museum outside of Paris, France dedicated to Rodin, the Rodin Museum’s new installation is the only one of its kind.

“It is like a little piece of Paris on the parkway,” visitor services assistant Lavender Jones said. “We have a little hidden gem here.”

The exhibit has spurred interest in the Philadelphia area. Jones said the museum was busier than usual for the premiere.

“Visitors seem very excited for the new installation and are showing interest in the raw emotion of Rodin’s work,” Jones said. “The vulnerability and emotion conveyed, it speaks to people especially because of the experience we have all been going through.”

Alexandria Pump of Philadelphia was among the visitors on opening weekend. Pump is a member of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and brought friends from out of town to view the new installation.

“Philadelphia has such a vibrant art scene,” Pump said. “Our modern street art is also grounded by structured museums like The Rodin.”

Among the many new pieces on display are two works offset from each other on opposite ends of the middle of the central gallery. These pieces are Hand of the Devil Holding Woman and Hand of God, both depicting opposite hands similarly holding people.

“The juxtaposition of that arrangement stands out,” Jones said. “It is good and evil faced off against each other.”

Thompson also announced the return of the museum’s garden bar attraction. The garden bar is available on Fridays beginning May 6.

The new installation is available for the next two years alongside several other works from throughout Rodin’s career on display semi-permanently on rotation. The permanent fixtures, such as The Thinker and The Gates of Hell are located outside of the museum complex. The museum runs on a “pay what you can” entry fee.

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