Rodin’s ‘Burghers of Calais’ returns
By JOANN LOVIGLIO
PHILADELPHIA — “The Burghers” are back.
After months of work to remove years of discoloration and damage from acid rain and pollution, Auguste Rodin’s monumental bronze sculpture “The Burghers of Calais” was returned to its pedestal at the Rodin Museum on Friday.
A team of museum and construction workers precisely guided the 6,000-pound sculpture into position while a giant crane slowly lowered it onto its base in the museum’s garden. It’s a homecoming for “The Burghers,” which spent decades outdoors before moving inside in the 1960s due to concerns about pitting and oxidation from exposure to the elements.
Senior conservator Andrew Lins said the restoration was done “in keeping with the aesthetics of the garden and the aesthetics Rodin had for these figures when he was alive.”
“We’ve tried to return them to an appearance close to — not exactly the same as, but close to — that intention of the artist,” Lins said.
Technological advances allowed conservators to remove the white streaks and dark buildup that covered “The Burghers” with a laser tool and chemical agents. They then rebuilt the surface patina in layers using chemicals and heat, followed by multiple layers of protective coating to protect the bronze from future weathering.
“It has a sort of polychromatic effect,” project conservator Katherine Cuffari said. “It’s not a monochromatic surface, it doesn’t look like a green Army man or a chocolate casting, it looks like a sculpture and it follows the form. There are greens and browns applied in multiple layers.”
The “Burghers” restoration caps a three-year renovation of the Rodin Museum, located between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the new Barnes Foundation on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The classical Beaux-Arts building has the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside of France.
The museum opened in 1929, a gift to the city from movie theater magnate Jules Mastbaum. As part of the recent $9 million renovation, sculptures were cleaned and returned to their original positions inside and out while the formal French gardens, fountain and reflecting pool were restored.
There are a dozen casts around the world of “The Burghers of Calais,” which commemorates the surrender of six of Calais’ prominent residents, or burghers, in 1347 during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. The original cast from 1895 is located in the French port town for which the sculpture is named.
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