“The Thinker” by Auguste Rodin ( Cleveland Museum of Art)

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin The Thinker by Auguste Rodin was originally conceived for his monumental bronze portal entitled The Gates of Hell (1880-1...

Cleveland Museum of Art - Joy of Museums 9

“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:

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

There are about 28 of the large or full-size castings, in which the figure is approximately 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.

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 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 artwork 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.

There are many museums across the world which 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.

The Thinker

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

Auguste Rodin

  • Name: François-Auguste-René Rodin
  • Born: 1840 – Paris, France
  • Died: 1917 (aged 77) – Meudon, France
  • Nationality: French
  • Notable work
    • Eternal Springtime, 1984
    • The Hand from the Tomb, 1914
    • The Gates of Hell, 1880 – 1917
    • Two Hands, 1909
    • The Cathedral, 1908
    • The Thinker, 1880 – 81


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


    Photo Credit: GM

20 October 2023, 16:12 | Views: 8793

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