The Thinker (Le Penseur) is a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin.
The work shows a nude male figure of over life-size sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand as though deep in thought and is often used as an image to represent philosophy.
The figure is about 186 centimeters (73 inches) high.
The Thinker was originally conceived not in heroic isolation, but as part of Rodin’s monumental Gates of Hell—a pair of bronze doors intended for a new Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris.
The grand size and incredible detail of the towering piece required 37 years of work from Rodin. In all that time, the Gates of Hell was never finished and the museum itself was never built.
The Gates of Hell stands at 6 meters high, 4 meters wide and 1 meter deep (19.7 x 13 x 3.3 feet) and contains 180 figures.
This piece, known as The Gates of Hell, is based on the 16th century epic poem, The Divine Comedy by Dante.
Some critics believe The Thinker, at the center of the composition over the doorway and at about 70 centimeters (27.5 inches) high larger than most other figures, was originally intended to depict Dante at the gates of Hell, pondering his great poem.
However, there are questionable aspects to this interpretation, including that the figure is naked, Dante is fully clothed throughout his poem, and that the figure, as used, in no way corresponds to Dante’s effete figure.
The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.
Rodin originally called this pondering figure The Poet. This name supports the theory that the statue was meant as a depiction of Dante.
Another interpretation is that the Thinker is Rodin himself meditating about his composition. Others believe that the figure may be Adam, contemplating the destruction brought upon mankind because of his sin.
Rodin made the first small plaster version around 1880. The first large-scale bronze casting was finished in 1902 but not presented to the public until 1904. It became the property of the city of Paris thanks to a subscription organized by Rodin admirers, and was put in front of the Panthéon in 1906. In 1922, it was moved to the Hôtel Biron, which had been transformed into the Rodin Museum.
In his lifetime, Rodin made at least 10 castings of The Thinker. Upon his death in 1917, the rights to recast it were given to the nation of France. Since then, that number has grown to over 20.
Today, plaster and bronze versions of The Thinker can be seen in Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, Geneva’s Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Washington D.C.‘s National Gallery of Art, Metropolitan Museum in New York, Rodin Museum in Philadelphia [photo below] and Paris’ Musée Rodin, just to name a few. There’s also one that marks Rodin’s grave.
The immense popularity of the piece has frequently been credited to the familiar emotion it projects, of being lost deep in thought, frozen from action. Rodin explained, “What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes.”
Although the doors were never cast during the sculptor’s lifetime, they nevertheless provided Rodin a rich source of ideas for individual figures and groups that he worked and reworked for the rest of his career.
From the original 6 x 4 x 1 meter (19.7 x 13 x 3.3 foot) work, the French sculptor made independent versions of The Thinker, The Three Shades, and The Kiss.
This detail from the Gates of Hell was first named The Thinker by foundry workers, who noted its similarity to Michelangelo’s statue of Lorenzo de Medici called “Il Penseroso” (The Thinker).
During its use as a public monument in Paris from 1906 onwards, The Thinker became known as a symbol of the socialist movement in France during a time of political and social turmoil.
At approximately 1:00 am on March 24, 1970, a bomb irreparably damaged the Cleveland Museum’s version of Rodin’s The Thinker. The bomb itself had been placed on a pedestal that supported the enlargement and had the power of about three sticks of dynamite. No one was injured, but the statue’s base and lower legs were destroyed. The sculpture is still on exhibit, though it has not been restored.