THE Governor, Mr Chris Patten, yesterday placed his tongue firmly in his cheek and drew what he claimed was an unintentioned parallel between the ''public vilification'' suffered by the French master Auguste Rodin and his own political predicament. As he officiated at the opening of the month-long Rodin exhibition at the Museum of Art, Mr Patten described the French sculptor as one of the greatest artists in Western civilisation. ''Rodin wasn't, of course, always widely recognised,'' he said. ''He was the subject of a great deal of criticism and a great deal of public vilification. ''As one of the greatest exponents of artistic freedom, eventually, as happens with many who are publicly vilified, his qualities came to be recognised, came to be celebrated as they should be.'' Much to the delight of the predominantly French gathering, Mr Patten added: ''There was, I assure you, no contemporary relevance in that.'' Mr Patten refused to be drawn on the topic which has seen him the subject of public criticism - negotiations over Hongkong's future. A self-proclaimed Francophile, he welcomed Hongkong's inclusion on the Rodin tour itinerary. ''The Rodin exhibition marks the launching of the French May Festival - a month of art exhibitions, performances and many festival events.'' ''It is hoped that through this festival, the people of Hongkong will gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of French culture and the French way of life.'' The 57 bronze masterpieces from the Paris Rodin Museum Collection will be exhibited at the museum in Tsim Sha Tsui from today until June 2.