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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin – Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland Museum of Art - Joy of Museums 9

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin – Cleveland Museum of Art

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin was initially conceived for his monumental bronze portal entitled “The Gates of Hell” (1880-1917).  The figure was intended to represent Italian poet Dante pondering “The Divine Comedy,” his epic classic of Paradise and Inferno. Initially, this masterpiece had several other names, including “The Poet.” In 1889, Rodin exhibited the sculpture independently of The Gates, giving it the title “The Thinker,” and in 1902, he embarked on this larger version. It has since become one of his most recognized masterpieces.

There are various sculptures of “The Thinker” around the world. They are all usually placed on a stone pedestal. The nude male figure sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand, deep in thought, is often used as an image to represent philosophy. Examples include:

There are about 28 of the large or full-size castings, in which the figure is approximately 186 centimeters (73 in) high, though not all were made during Rodin’s lifetime and under his supervision. There are also various other versions, several in plaster, studies, and posthumous castings, in a range of sizes.

Cleveland Museum of Art - Joy of Museums 10

“The Thinker” at the Cleveland Museum of Art was damaged by vandals and remains unrepaired. 

Initially conceived for the sculpture that Rodin called the “The Gates of Hell.” “The Thinker” dominates the center of the door lintel, where he presides over the figures of the damned, which are depicted on the doors below the lintel. Behind him, the chaotic dance of death takes place. He sits apart with no symbol of his identification. Is he the poet, the creator, the judge, the sculptor?

Rodin based “The Gates of Hell” on The Divine Comedy of Dante, and most of the figures in the artwork represented the characters in the epic poem. Some speculate that “The Thinker,” at the center over the doorway and at about 70 cm high, which is larger than most other figures, was originally intended to depict Dante at the gates of Hell, pondering his poem. The figures in the sculpture are mainly nude, especially “The Thinker” as Rodin wanted the figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.

There are many museums across the world that exhibit “The Thinker” made during Rodin’s lifetime. They are at a monumental scale, and they range in materials from Bronze to Plaster or Plaster with Bronze tinted.

1970 Bombing of “The Thinker”

A 1970’s bombing damaged Rodin’s The Thinker at the Cleveland Museum. The bomb was placed on a pedestal of the statue, and the statue’s base and lower legs were destroyed. The cast was blown up at the bottom to form a ‘plume’ at the base.

The attack was assumed to have been made by a radical political group protesting the Vietnam War. Suspicion fell on a group called the “Weathermen” and the “Students for a Democratic Society.” No one was ever arrested or charged with the destruction. The bombing took place just weeks before National Guardsmen opened fire on protesters and students at Kent State University on May 4, 1970, and killed four.

The Museum decided that the statue should not be repaired but placed outside the Museum in its damaged condition, as a statement of how fragile is the social fabric that binds us all together.

The Thinker

  • Title:                  The Thinker
  • French:              Le Penseur
  • Artist:                Auguste Rodin
  • Year:                  Modelled in clay 1880 – 81; cast in bronze 1916; Alexis Rudier cast
  • Material:           Bronze Casting
  • Museum:          Cleveland Museum of Art

Auguste Rodin

A Tour of the Cleveland Museum of Art

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“I invent nothing, I rediscover.”
– Auguste Rodin

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Photo Credit: GM

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