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July 14th, 2011
Rodin Museum Gardens and Landscape Blooms After Three-Year Rejuvenation

A gloriously rejuvenated garden landscape surrounding the Rodin Museum was unveiled today by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which administers the Rodin Museum and Gardens; the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society; and Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, completing a three-year collaboration that revitalizes the site’s extraordinary harmony of art and nature.

Leaders of the city’s cultural and philanthropic communities celebrated the rebirth of the Rodin Museum and Gardens’ grounds and toured the courtyard and exterior gardens, which now enhance the entire block between 21st and 22nd Streets on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Bastille Day was chosen as the date on which to celebrate in order to honor French sculptor Auguste Rodin as well as Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber, the original designers of the museum building, landscape, and Parkway.

“Today we mark a major milestone in our work to renew the Parkway as a grand, green boulevard of arts and culture and as an international destination,” said Timothy Rub, The George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “This burnishing of one of our city’s cultural jewels is the result of a remarkable partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, the landscape design firm OLIN, and generous public and private funders. Today’s events honor the original vision for the gardens surrounding the Rodin Museum and provide a glimpse of further changes ahead that will highlight the collection and reveal the intended harmony of monumental public sculpture with these sensitively restored green spaces.”

The Rodin Museum and Gardens project, which includes the restoration of the Meudon Gate entrance, is part of a $20.9 million investment to revitalize the Parkway funded by the City of Philadelphia, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and the William Penn Foundation. A $1.4 million comprehensive restoration of the Rodin Museum’s exterior facade, launched in 2010, was generously funded by grants from the William B. Dietrich Foundation and the City of Philadelphia. “Those of us in the philanthropic community applaud the creativity and hard work by the Philadelphia Museum of Art, OLIN, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the City in renewing this important cultural asset,” said Donald Kimelman, managing director of Pew’s Philadelphia Program. “We are delighted to see the Parkway’s continuing transformation into the great urban thoroughfare it was meant to be.” 

The design by OLIN, managed by the Museum and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society follows the spirit of the original plans by architect Paul Cret and landscape architect Jacques Gréber as revealed in 1929 when the Rodin Museum and Gardens first opened. The rejuvenation of the site enhances and amplifies the original vision while placing special focus on the relationship of the Rodin Museum to the Parkway.

Work on the interior courtyard garden included repair of walls, stairs, and paving; planting of trees, shrubs, and perennials; selective removal or pruning of shrubs; a new irrigation system; and new lighting. Exterior landscape improvements involved restoration of lawns; planting of trees and groundcover; and installation of new pedestrian circulation, service stairs, walls, curbs, pathways, and a rear drive to increase accessibility throughout the site, as well as new site furnishings and pathway lighting.  At the entry to the site, enhancements included improved drainage, planting of flowering shrubs and groundcover, and replacement of declining trees.

“The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and our partners at the Rodin Museum and Gardens are proud to invite everyone to see and enjoy the transformation of the landscape,” said Drew Becher, Pennsylvania Horticulture Society President. “The gardens of the Rodin Museum now complement the extraordinary building and the amazing collection of art inside. This is a beautiful marriage of culture and horticulture.”

The outer areas of the garden create a vista to spotlight the courtyard and museum from the Parkway, with plantings that include native species used in the original design by Cret and Gréber, beneath a canopy of flowering trees. Within the courtyard, the formal perennial garden offers a variety of fragrances and displays, with the color and texture of the plants changing throughout the seasons.

“Our goal in the design was to restore the symmetry of the formal French plan, but also to reunify the whole block as a Parkway garden,” explained OLIN partner Susan Weiler, ”so what we have now achieved is a garden within a garden within a Parkway. We introduced more transparency throughout the site and accentuated the seasonality, so the garden is visually interesting all the time.”

“As of today, Philadelphians can once again claim these beautiful spaces for their pleasure and enjoy them all year long,” said Gail Harrity, President and COO, Philadelphia Museum of Art. “At every step, while the project has endeavored to honor Cret and Gréber, it has reminded us that collaboration and enlightened philanthropy are the catalysts of rejuvenation, bringing new insights to the original plan of the Parkway and recognizing its continuing promise as a destination driver for tourism in the city.”

The Rodin Museum and Gardens project is one piece of the larger plan to renew the entire Benjamin Franklin Parkway as a preeminent corridor of the arts and sciences and as a wellspring for the region’s social and economic vitality. Designed by Gréber to evoke the Champs Élysées in Paris, Philadelphia’s Parkway connects the seat of government to the preeminent cultural institutions and Fairmount Park, and serves as the welcoming gateway to the city.

“The city is grateful to all the partners and funders involved in the Rodin Museum initiative and the other dramatic Parkway improvements,” said Michael DiBerardinis, Deputy Mayor for Environmental and Community Resources. “These are significant changes in the landscape of Philadelphia that will be enjoyed by residents and visitors for generations to come.”

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With the gardens restored and the remainder of the Parkway streetscaping soon to be complete, another step in the rejuvenation will be the reinstallation of the Rodin Museum’s galleries. The Rodin Museum and Gardens will remain open on Labor Day, September 5 and will then  close from September 6 through Spring 2012 to complete the interior renovations, just as a number of sculptures are being returned to the garden for the first time in more than 40 years. The Burghers of Calais, a monumental bronze, has been taken back into the east garden from which it had been removed in 1955. The Age of Bronze and Eve, freestanding life-size sculptures that until the 1960s graced the niches on the museum façade will return once again to those locations, while Adam and Shade will be placed again at the Meudon Gate, for the first time since the late 1960s. These changes underscore the original vision for the museum, through which the gardens and the collections were intended to complement each other and work in harmony, as part of an integrated whole. In addition, a marble replica of Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss has also been returned to the Rodin Museum’s main gallery, where it had been displayed for decades until its removal in 1967. Next year, as the gardens are alive in spring color, the museum’s interior will reopen to the public with a new installation, enhanced interpretive and public programs, and visitor amenities.

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