Rodin's The Thinker

All told there are, twenty-five 72" enlarged versions of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Of these, fewer than ten were cast and patinated during his lifetime. One of the last Rodin supervised casts can be found in Cleveland, Ohio, where it sits directly in front of the Cleveland Museum of Art. This cast was acquired in 1916, and given to the Cleveland Museum of Art early in 1917.


About The Thinker

One of Auguste Rodin’s most famous works, The Thinker was part of a commission for the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. Although the museum was never built, the commission for the doors was begun, though never completed. The Gates of Hell is considered one of Rodin's masterworks.

Rodin worked for approximately ten years on the conception, construction, and arrangement of the Gates of Hell. Each of the main figures included was originally designed to represent one of the main characters in hell in Dante's epic poem of 1321, The Divine Comedy. The Thinker, initially intended to represent Dante himself, was originally positioned by Rodin at the top of the doorjamb, contemplating the scene below.

In the nearly ten years that Rodin worked on the Gates of Hell, he changed the format of the images several times. Often he would re-work one or more of the main sculptural groups, or remove them from the door's composition altogether. The Thinker, although not frequently included in these re-workings, was removed from the doors once, along with all of the other protruding sculptural elements, when the doors were displayed in 1900.

Several of the sculptures designed for the Gates of Hell - especially The Thinker and The Kiss - became well known as sculptures independent of the original project. The Thinker was originally entitled Le Poète (The Poet) by Rodin. He changed the title to Le Poète/Le Pensure (The Poet/ The Thinker), and then finally to Le Pensure (The Thinker).

The enlargement of the original 27" version of the sculpture was not difficult thanks to the help of an enlarging mechanism called the colas machine and the assistance of Henri Lebosse. Using the process that Lebosse developed, Rodin's original model could be "traced" onto another block of clay, and in the process, enlarged or reduced.


Tradition of Outdoor, Public Placement

Although created for the Gates of Hell, The Thinker took on an alternate significance and became a symbol of freedom and knowledge.

After its first exhibition, a public petition was circulated to have the 72" sculpture purchased and donated to the people of France. After its purchase in 1906, the initial enlarged version of Rodin's The Thinker was placed outside of the Pantheon in Paris, where it stayed until 1922. It was later removed from its original placement because it was said to create an obstacle to public events, and, also because it had taken on socialist connotations. It was subsequently transported to the Musee Rodin, in the former Hotel Biron.

There the statue sits today on its original pedestal in the exterior gardens of the Museum. There is also another version of The Thinker located over the grave of Auguste and Rose Rodin. Auguste Rodin placed it there upon the death of his wife, and when he passed away in 1917, he was also buried below it. Because the original Gates of Hell were designed as outdoor sculpture, and Rodin's first enlargement was placed outdoors in front of the Pantheon, most of Rodin's subsequent enlargements have ended up outdoors as well. Unfortunately this leaves these works unprotected from both the elements and the public.