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“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin (Rodin Museum, Philadelphia)

Rodin Museum - Joy of Museums - The Thinker 2

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin was originally 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 recognised masterpieces.

There are various sculptures of the “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 about 186 centimetres (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. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, USA, has a medium sized version and a full-size version.

Originally conceived for “The Gates of Hell”, “The Thinker” dominates the centre of the lintel and presides over the figures of the damned, 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 work represented the characters in the epic poem. Some speculate that “The Thinker”, at the centre 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.

The Thinker was produced in several versions, the original size and the later monumental size versions were created by Rodin. There was also a limited edition of 12 copies made from the original plaster mould by the Musée Rodin after Rodin’s death. The version of The Legion of Honor was cast by Alexis Rudier, purchased in 1915, donated to San Francisco in 1922.

Rodin Museum - Joy of Museums - The Thinker

Fortunately, there are a number of museums where you can see copies of “The Thinker” made during Rodin’s lifetime. They are original or monumental scale, and they range in materials from Bronze to Plaster or Plaster with Bronze-tinted, below are just a few examples:

  • “The Thinker” at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco
  • “The Thinker” at the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (Medium Size)
  • “The Thinker” at the Cleveland Museum of Art
  • “The Thinker” at the Rodin Museum, Philadelphia (Full Size)

Auguste Rodin

Auguste Rodin is generally considered the father of modern sculpture, he possessed a unique ability to model a complex and deeply pocketed surface in clay. Many of his most notable sculptures were criticised during his lifetime. Rodin’s most original work departed from traditional themes of mythology and allegory, he modelled the human body with realism and with individual character and physicality. By 1900, he was a world-renowned artist and remains one of the few sculptors widely known outside the arts community.

The Thinker

  • Title:                     The Thinker
  • French:                 Le Penseur
  • Year:                     Modelled in clay 1880 – 81; cast in bronze 1919
    •                      Cast by the founder Alexis Rudier, Paris, 1874 – 1952.
  • Place of Origin:   France
  • Material:              Bronze Casting
  • Dimensions:        6 ft 7″ × 51 1/4″ × 55 1/4″ (200.7 × 130.2 × 140.3 cm)
  • Museum:              Rodin Museum, Philadelphia

Auguste Rodin:


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


Photo Credit: JOM