The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

The Thinker (The Legion of Honor)

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“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.

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?

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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 mold by the Musée Rodin after Rodin’s death. The version at the The Legion of Honor was cast by Alexis Rudier, purchased in 1915, donated to San Francisco in 1922.

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Below is a list of locations 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. The order below is from the earliest in 1884 to the last one in 1916:

  • National Gallery of Victoria
  • Musée d’Art et d’Histoire
  • National Gallery of Art
  • Panthéon, Latin Quarter, Paris
  • University of Louisville
  • Detroit Institute of Arts
  • Metropolitan Museum, New York
  • Musée Rodin, Paris
  • Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek
  • Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden
  • National Museum, Poznań
  • Legion of Honor, San Francisco
  • Private collection (sold for $15.3 million in 2013)
  • Laeken Cemetery, Brussels
  • Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
  • Ca’ Pesaro, Venice
  • Congressional Plaza, Buenos Aires
  • Waldemarsudde, Sweden
  • Private collection (sold for $11.8 million in 2010)
  • Rodin’s tomb, Meudon
  • Cleveland Museum of Art
  • Musée Rodin at Meudon

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                     The Thinker – French: Le Penseur
  • Year:                     Modelled in clay 1880 – 81; cast in bronze 1904
  • Place of Origin:   France
  • Material:              Bronze Casting
  • Museum:             The Legion of Honor

Artist Essential Facts:

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“I invent nothing, I rediscover.” Auguste Rodin

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons