The Musée d'Orsay is fortunate enough to present one of the greatest masterpieces of 19th century sculpture, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin.
During its installation in 1986, it was decided to position it sideways to the axis of the nave so as to create a surprise effect during the visit and emphasize the depth of the work, certain figures in which stand out from the background – particularly The Thinker, in the center of the tympanum.
In recent years, the idea of aligning The Gates of Hell with the axis has gradually emerged: in this position, it would be better showcased and would be visible as soon as visitors enter the museum, becoming the focal point of the view.
Propped against a new cyma in order to stabilize it and avoid it being visually overwhelmed by the two towers, it will also be accentuated by a new museography. Works from the collections of the Musée d’Orsay or loaned by the Musée Rodin will be placed around it to aid the understanding of The Gates and their importance in the artist’s creative process.
On the left, sculptures speak to the context of its creation, notably a set of groups and figures created by Rodin to populate his Gates(the large Standing Fauness, Despair, the damned Glaucus, Ovid's Metamorphoses , etc.). On the right are works also created for The Gates, but which have become independent (The Thinker, Fugitive Love, Crouching Women, etc.).
Dismantling and restoration
The Gates of Hell were dismantled over the first two weeks of November 2021. The two halves of the work, placed one atop the other, connected by a plaster seal and held in place by metal rods set in the wall of the tower, were separated.
This operation also provided an opportunity to get a full picture of the condition of the work in order to identify fragile areas, build up of dirt and discoloration. The dust will be removed (an operation not carried out on the reverse side for 35 years!) with more thorough cleaning in places, and the plaster will be reinforced where required.
The inauguration of this entirely reconfigured space is scheduled for spring 2022, at the same time as the inauguration of a new display at the far end of the nave, just below. Visitors will thus have a clearer view of The Gates of Hell, and be able to better understand the wealth and complexity of its history and its iconography.
Brief history of The Gates of Hell
The origin of The Gates of Hell dates back to 1880, when Rodin received a commission from the French State for a “door decorated in low relief with illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy”. The door was destined to adorn the facade of a planned museum of decorative arts at one time identified for construction within the ruins of the Palais d’Orsay, the head office of the Court of Auditors burnt down during the Paris Commune. This project was ultimately abandoned, and the ruins were demolished to make way for the Orsay train station as of 1896.
Rodin created a large number of groups and figures for his Gates, drawing inspiration firstly from Inferno, the first book in the Divine Comedy written by Dante Alighieri in the early 14th century. This is notably the origin of the groups featuring Paolo and Francesca (the subjects shown in the famous piece The Kiss) and count Ugolino. Little by little he began to incorporate a new source of inspiration, Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], the sensual, poisonous and voluptuous atmosphere of which bore a deep fascination for the artist.
The complex history of the museum of decorative arts, which ultimately opened in 1905 in the Pavillon de Marsan, in the Louvre, explains why The Gates of Hell were gradually stripped of a precise destination and instead became an autonomous work. Rodin only exhibited it to the public once during his lifetime, as part of the retrospective he held at the Universal Exhibition of 1900.
In 1917, he had a new cast of his Gates produced to be exhibited at the future Musée Rodin. It remained in what is now the museum’s temporary exhibition gallery, before being dismantled and placed in storage. It is this version that has been on long-term loan since 1986 to the Musée d'Orsay.
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