Sculptor, painter, sketcher, engraver and collector Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) donated his entire collection to the French state in 1908 on the proviso that they dedicate his former workshop and showroom, the beautiful 1730 Hôtel Biron, to displaying his works. The Hôtel Biron is a jewel of Parisian rocaille architecture, with its park that covers nearly three hectares of peaceful French-style garden, adding to its immense attraction. It welcomes over 700,000 visitors every year. Rocaille in Western architecture and decorative arts is the 18th-century style featuring elaborately stylised shell-like, rocklike, and scroll motifs. Rocaille is one of the more prominent aspects of the Rococo style of architecture and decoration that developed in France during the reign of King Louis XV(1715-74).
The grounds are divided into a rose garden north of the Hôtel Biron and a large ornamental garden to the south, while a hornbeam hedge backing on to a trellis conceals a relaxation area at the bottom of the garden. The garden showcases many of Auguste Rodin’s Sculptures. Hornbeam is a hardy native plant similar to Green Beech with mid-green leaves, suitable for heavy wet soils and frost pockets. It has green catkins from late spring to autumn, turning to clusters of winged fruit in autumn providing food for wildlife. It is shade tolerant and retains brown foliage in winter, especially if pruned in late summer.
“Head and shoulders above beech in every respect, it’s no surprise that kings and queens have courted the regal hornbeam” – Monty Don.
In 1908 Rodin started to place selected works in the overgrown garden that he liked so much, together with some of the antiques from his personal collection. Male and female torsos, copies made in the Roman or modern period, after Greek works, were presented in these natural surroundings, their contours dappled by the sunlight. The first bronzes were erected in the gardens before World War I. Since 1993 they have been regularly cleaned and treated so as to preserve their original patina.
“Nature and Antiquity are the two great sources of life for an artist. In any event, Antiquity implies nature. It is its truth and its smile.” (Rodin)
A charming café is located in the heart of the garden and on a hot day in Paris I enjoyed a delightful salad, the shady trees and conversation with a young French waiter who was working to save enough funds to visit Australia.