Essential Architecture-  Paris

Musée Rodin (Hôtel Peyrence de Moras or Hôtel de Biron)


commissioned by Abraham Peyrenc de Moras and designed by Jean Aubert and Jacques V. Gabriel 


77, rue de Varenne near the Varenne Metro station


1727 to 1732






  Jean-François Blondel (1683-1756) Elevation of the garden façade of Madame de Moras’s house Book 2, Plate 6
There are two good reasons to visit this hôtel: it is one of the most beautiful in Paris, and it is devoted to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. The financier Abraham Peyrence de Moras, enriched by the speculations of the banker John Law, built this residence, his third in Paris. It was later purchased in secession by the duchesse du Maine and the maréchal de Biron (1753) and came to be known as the Hôtel de Biron. From 1828 to 1902, it served as a residence for young girls; the chapel on the rue de Varenne dates from this period. In 1904, the French state became the owner and began to rent portions of it to artists. Rodin resided here from 1908 until his death in 1917. Since he bequeathed all the work then in his possession to the government, the state chose to restore the hôtel and transform it into the Musée Rodin. Several of the artist's larger works on are display in the gardens, which have also been restored.

Text and illustration quoted from- "Paris, Buildings and Monuments" An Illustrated Guide with over 850 Drawings and Neighborhood Maps. By Michael Poisson. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 463 pp, 1999.
From the Hôtel Biron 
to the Musée Rodin

The Hôtel Biron stands below the dome of the Invalides at 77 rue de Varenne. It is not located between a courtyard and a garden like most of the large houses in the Faubourg Saint-Germain, but is detached like a real château, surrounded by three hectares (7.4 acres) of grounds.
The house was built between 1728 and 1730 by the architect Jean Aubert, who later designed the magnificent stables of the Château de Chantilly, and commissioned by Abraham Peyrenc de Moras, a wig-maker who had made his fortune through speculating in paper money. Although Peyrenc de Moras was one of the nouveaux riches, he demonstrated unerring good taste, calling on Aubert who created one of the masterpieces of rocaille architecture in this house. The beauty of the façades, the south pediment and the masks above the windows is equalled by the refinement of the internal decoration, particularly the skilfully carved panelling in the suite of five interconnecting rooms overlooking the grounds to the south. Fortunately the museum was able to buy back much of the original decor after World War II, the panelling of the oval drawing-rooms to the east and west in particular. François Lemoyne, First Painter to the King, was asked to supply the painted decor, sixteen medallions or overdoors ; shortly afterwards he was to undertake the decoration of the ceiling of the salon d’Hercule at Versailles. Recently the museum was able to buy two overdoors, Venus Showing Cupid the Ardour of his Arrows and the Labours of Penelope, and restore them to their original positions ; a third is in Nancy museum.
As we can see, the house in 1730 was notable for its magnificence and refinement. However, Peyrenc de Moras did not enjoy it long as he died in 1732 ; his widow subsequently rented it out to the duchesse du Maine, Louis XIV’s daughter-in-law, until her death in 1753. The property was then sold to the maréchal de Biron, who had distinguished himself at the Battle of Fontenoy, and from then on it bore his name. Biron made very few changes to the internal layout of the house, but be completely transformed the grounds, turning them into one of finest parks in Paris, commented on by all the guides of the period. In 1782 the comte and comtesse du Nord - actually the future Tsar Paul I who was travelling incognito using this pseudonym - visited the Hôtel Biron: “Their Imperial Highnesses studied the garden which is one of the wonders of Paris, admiring the beauty of the flowers and the variety of the borders. They walked among the flower beds and the shrubberies, marvelling at the boldness and elegance of the trellis work forming gateways, arcades, grottoes, domes, Chinese pavilions..."

When the maréchal de Biron died in 1788 the estate passed to his nephew, the duc de Lauzun ; despite the fact that he had been a hero in the American War of Independence and commanded the Revolutionary Army of the Rhine, he was guillotined in 1793. The property was rented out to people who organized public balls and started on its downward spiral, the magnificent flower beds making way for a fairground. However during the Consulate and the Empire the house reverted to its original purpose housing the Papal legate, and then the Russian ambassador.

The house still belonged to the duchesse de Béthune-Charost and its future was destined to be in line with the devout duchess’s religious principles. In 1820 it was handed over to the Société du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus, founded in 1804 by Mother Sophie Barat and devoted to the education of young girls of aristocratic and noble birth. Life there was hard and austere ; Marie Dagoult, the Egeria of Franz Liszt, described the daily routine of the boarders who got up at 6 a.m., lived with no heating and washed in cold water. Banishing all luxury from the house, the Mother Superior Sophie Barat had all superfluous elements such as panelling, mirrors, iron work and paintings removed. Some time later in 1875-1876 the chapel was built by the architect Lisch - it is now used as a temporary exhibition room. This was the blackest period in the history of the Hôtel Biron, and when it was confiscated in 1905 as a result of the application of the law separating Church and State property, it looked no more than an empty shell surrounded by derelict grounds.

Although the intention was that it should be demolished, it meanwhile served as a temporary home to an impressive number of artists : Jean Cocteau, Henri Matisse, the actor de Max, lsadora Duncan who had her dancing school in a building standing in the cour d’honneur that has now been demolished, as well as Rodin who on Rainer Maria Rilke’s advice took up residence in the suite of south-facing drawing-rooms in 1908. Although he carried on living and working at the Villa des Brillants in Meudon, Rodin was enchanted by the beauty of the house and the wild charm of the grounds. He assembled his works there, covering the walls with his drawings and filling the park with his Greek and Roman antiquities ; he received a number of distinguished guests there under the eagle eye of the redoubtable duchesse de Choiseul. 

In 1911 the State bought the property, with the south part lopped off and assigned to the Lycée Victor Duruy, while Rodin hatched The plan of handing over everything he had collected to the State on coodition that a museum was devoted to him at the Hôtel Biron. Claude Monet, Octave Mirbeau, Raymond Poincaré, Georges Clemenceau and Étienne Clémentel were among those supporting the scheme, but it was still difficult to bring to a successful conclusion because even at that period the sculptor’s art was still so little understood, or even regarded as the work of the devil. The three donations were approved by a vote in Parliament and made officical on 24 December 1916, with Rodin giving the State all his collections, his photographs and archives, as well as aIl his work - sculptures and drawings - along with the proprietary rights that went with it. As Rodin died on 17 November 1917 he did not see the materialization of his final dream, the opening of his own museum, which took place in 1919.

Extract from the work Rodin - Le musée et ses collections, published by Scala, Paris, 1996