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“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin (The Legion of Honor)

The Legion of Honor - Joy of Museums 2

“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin

“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 this sculpture independently of The Gates, giving it the title “The Thinker,” and in 1902, he embarked on this larger version. Consequently, it has since become one of his most recognized masterpieces and is usually placed on a stone pedestal. The nude male figure is sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand, deep in thought. The image is often used as an image to represent philosophy.

There are many sculptures of the “The Thinker” in museums around the world., examples include:

Importantly, there are about twenty-eight of the large or full-size castings, where the figure is about 186 centimeters (73 in) high, though not all were made during Rodin’s lifetime or under his supervision. Also, there are various other versions, several in plaster, studies, and posthumous castings, in a range of sizes. The Rodin Museum in Philadelphia, USA, has a large-sized and medium-sized version.

As initially conceived for “The Gates of Hell,” “The Thinker” dominates the center of the lintel. “The Thinker” 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, or the sculptor?

Most of the figures in the work represent the characters in the epic poem, the Divine Comedy by Dante. “The Thinker” at the center of the doorway, is larger than most of the other figures which are mainly nude, as Rodin wanted the figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.

This version of the “Thinker” at The Legion of Honor was cast by Alexis Rudier, purchased in 1915, donated to San Francisco in 1922.

The Thinker

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

Auguste Rodin

A Tour of The Legion of Honor


  • Is he the poet, the creator, the judge, or the sculptor?
  • Do you sit and think like this, what is your favorite posture for thinking?
  • Is sculpture in the nude more universal than if it was clothed? Is it more poetic?
  • What should I think about today?


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


Photo Credit: GM

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