The Musée Rodin: Background information when reading All the Devils Are Here

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All the Devils Are Here

Chief Inspector Gamache #16

by Louise Penny

All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny X
All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 448 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 464 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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The Musée Rodin

This article relates to All the Devils Are Here

Print Review

The Thinker, Musée Rodin Several important scenes in Louise Penny's mystery, All the Devils Are Here, take place in the gardens of the Musée Rodin. Located in Paris, just south of the River Seine and about a mile east of the Eiffel Tower, the museum and its grounds boast thousands of Auguste Rodin's sculptures, casts and drawings, as well as thousands of works of art the sculptor accumulated throughout his life. It is open to the public and records over 700,000 visits annually. Rodin's most famous works — The Burghers of Calais, The Gates of Hell, The Kiss, The Thinker — can be found here.

The building where the museum is located started out as a mansion built for French banker Abraham Peyrenc de Moras. It was designed and constructed by the chief architect to the King of France, Jean Aubert, and was completed in 1732, although Peyrenc didn't live long enough to reside in it. It is a magnificent structure; according to the museum's web site, it remains "a shining example of the rocaille architecture that was fashionable at this time." Peyrenc chose the site because its location in Paris would allow it to be used as a town house, while the estate was large enough to feel like a rural escape (the grounds alone are over 300,000 square feet). Peyrenc's widow rented out the property after her husband's death and later sold it to Louis-Antoine de Gontaut-Biron, from whom the mansion got its current name: the Hôtel Biron. (In this case, "Hôtel" refers to a "hôtel particulier," or a type of luxury town house.) Biron went about improving the grounds around the manor, ultimately creating one of the best-known gardens in Paris. Descriptions and engravings from 1776 and 1778 confirm that Biron doubled the size of the ornamental gardens (designed in the classical French style), developed part of the land into an English-style garden and had a large circular pool added.

After Biron's death, the grounds were occupied by various tenants before being sold in their entirety in 1820 to three nuns, one of whom was the Reverend Mother Madeleine-Louise-Sophie Barat. Barat founded the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a religious congregation for women that gradually converted the mansion to a girls' boarding school, selling off the building's decoration (including the woodwork and ironwork) to help fund the institution. The surrounding land was transformed as well; the ornamental gardens were turned into a large kitchen garden, the grounds became pastureland and orchards, and the circular pool was filled in to become the base of a shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Structures were added over the decades, including a chapel designed by renowned architect Jean Juste Gustave Lisch, completed in 1876.

In 1904, the sisters were evicted due to laws enforcing the separation of religious and educational institutions, and the mansion was divided up into apartments, many of which were rented by the artistic elite of the day, such as painter Henri Matisse and dancer Isadora Duncan. Rodin moved into the building in 1908, first renting four rooms on the ground floor that opened onto a terrace. By 1911 he had expanded his occupancy, becoming the sole resident. When the mansion was sold to the French government, which intended to turn it into a secondary school, Rodin proposed the following:

I give the State all my works in plaster, marble, bronze and stone, and my drawings, as well as the collection of antiquities that I had such pleasure in assembling for the education and training of artists and workers. And I ask the State to keep all these collections in the Hôtel Biron, which will be the Musée Rodin, reserving the right to reside there all my life.

His scheme was officially adopted in 1916 and the museum opened in 1919, two years after the artist's death. The Hôtel Biron was listed as a historical monument in 1926, and both it and the grounds have undergone extensive restoration work since, as well as renovations to make it more tourist-friendly.

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker (Le Penseur), Jardin du Musée Rodin, by Yair Haklai on March 31, 2007

Filed under Places, Cultures & Identities

Article by Kim Kovacs

This "beyond the book article" relates to All the Devils Are Here. It originally ran in September 2020 and has been updated for the June 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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