Gala celebrating the reopening of the Rodin Museum
Philadelphia, September 15, 2012
Dear Connie Williams, Board Chair of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Dear Timothy Rub, George D. Widener Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Dear Gail Harrity, President and Chief Operating Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art,
Dear Michael Scullin, Honorary Consul of France in Philadelphia, and dear Patricia,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It’s a great pleasure and a great honor to be with you tonight for this wonderful gala celebrating the reopening of the Rodin Museum. I want to thank you for your warm welcome to Philadelphia and to this magnificent museum, which is no doubt one of the great symbols of the friendship between the United States and France.
Auguste Rodin may be the most widely known French artist outside of France, and he has been celebrated at this exquisite building for almost a century now.
Actually we consider Rodin to be the greatest sculptor of all times – here you recognize the traditional and well-known French modesty.
Philadelphia was the first American city to exhibit works by Rodin, at the 1876 Centennial Exposition. It is said that the sculptor was a little disappointed by his American debut, as his works were not awarded any medals and went unmentioned in the press. He could not have predicted Jules Mastbaum’s decision, fifty years later in 1926, to build this museum for Philadelphia.
Mastbaum, one of Philadelphia’s great collectors and philanthropists, discovered Rodin’s work during his visit to Paris in 1924 and soon acquired more than two hundred works by the sculptor. For the creation of the Museum, he chose French architect Paul Cret and Jacques Gréber, a French landscape architect also known in the city for the design of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, inspired by the Champs-Elysées in Paris.
Together they designed this beautiful building and its garden, creating an impressive yet intimate setting for Mastbaum’s wonderful collection of works by the French master.
And the collaboration between our two countries still goes on today. Indeed, over the years, a wonderful partnership has grown up between this museum and its sister institution in France, the Musée Rodin, which are the largest repositories of Rodin’s works.
Here I want to take this opportunity to welcome Catherine Chevillot, Director of the Musée Rodin in Paris, who has come especially from Paris to be with us on this special occasion. May I also recognize Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest, two great friends of the Arts who also are close and long-time friends of my country as well as Michèle Rosen and Greg Joy, who do so much for France with the French Heritage Society in particular.
The restoration of the Rodin Museum, its surrounding landscape and the traditional French garden more accurately reflects the original vision of Mastbaum and his architects, and made it possible to return sculptures to their intended places in the garden.
On a personal note I am all the more enthusiastic about it that my wife Sophie studied at the University of Pennsylvania – it was a few years ago – and so my better half is to a large extent a daughter of this great city.
In 1929, the Museum was inaugurated in the presence of French famous writer and then French Ambassador to the United States Paul Claudel. Claudel was a great promoter of cultural exchanges as an essential diplomatic tool for fostering better understanding between countries. Our presence here tonight to celebrate the restoration of the Rodin Museum is a sign that this idea is still very much alive and shall remain so for many more years.
In this respect our event tonight could not come at a better time as French-American relations, and this is good news, have never been stronger than they are today, as illustrated by President Hollande’s very successful visit to the United States four months ago, literally three days after his inauguration as the new President of France.
Let’s never forget that from Yorktown to the beaches of Normandy, our two countries have always been shoulder to shoulder to defend and promote the values of freedom and democracy that we together gave the world more than 200 years ago.
This is the case today, more than ever, as we mourn with you the killing of your Ambassador to Libya and three of his colleagues.
And as our two countries are in the forefront of international efforts to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-weapon state, to take just this example.
Se we can see that these values that we share, which are also part of our celebration tonight, are today more than ever our best guide, I would even say, our best moral compass, to confront together the current challenges we face.
My warmest thanks again to Connie Williams and to all of you for this wonderful evening. I would like to give the floor to Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art./.