How a Single Sculpture Inspired Some of Rodin’s Most Famous Works

The Thinker

Auguste Rodin The Thinker Rodin Sculpture

Photo: Roman Suzuki via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Designed in 1880, Le Penseur or The Thinker is one of the most famous sculptures in the world. Though initially imagined as a subject of The Gates of Hell, the pensive figure took on a life its own when Rodin opted to cast a larger-than-life bronze version in 1904.

Seated on a rock with his chin resting on his closed fist, the nude figure is depicted deep in the thought. Due to his contemplative demeanor, The Thinker is often viewed as an embodiment of philosophy—though the figure was originally referred to by Rodin as a poet. Due to its likeness to Il Penseroso (The Thinker)—an Italian Renaissance sculpture by Michelangelo—however, the sculpture became known as The Thinker.

Auguste Rodin The Thinker Rodin Sculpture

Left photo: Rufus46 (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Right photo: GordonMakryllos via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Furthermore, while the reason behind the figure's nudity is unclear, art historians believe that Rodin looked to Michelangelo's unclothed sculptures—including his iconic David statue—for inspiration. Rodin was interested in the Renaissance artist‘s knowledge of anatomy and approach to the human figure, which helped shape his own practice. “Michelangelo revealed me to myself, revealed to me the truth of forms,” he explained. “I went to Florence to find what I possessed in Paris and elsewhere, but it is he who taught me this.”

Auguste Rodin The Thinker Rodin Sculpture

Photo: Tammy Lo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0)

Though the first large-scale version of The Thinker is located in Paris' Rodin Museum, 27 other monumental castings can be found in fine art museums, sculpture gardens, and other world-class collections.

Auguste Rodin The Thinker Rodin Sculpture

Photo: Brianlocicero via Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

In addition to these full-sized replicas, many smaller castings—rendered in bronze, plaster, and other mediums—exist throughout the world.

Auguste Rodin The Thinker Rodin Sculpture

Photo: Oleg Alexandrov via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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Kelly Richman-Abdou

Kelly Richman-Abdou is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met. An art historian living in Paris, Kelly was born and raised in San Francisco and holds a BA in Art History from the University of San Francisco and an MA in Art and Museum Studies from Georgetown University. When she’s not writing, you can find Kelly wandering around Paris, whether she’s leading a tour (as a guide, she has been interviewed by BBC World News America and France 24) or simply taking a stroll with her husband and two tiny daughters.
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