Rodin The Thinker sculpture, which sits at the entrance to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Photographed while attending a wedding in Kansas City, Missouri in 2009.
The Thinker (French: Le Penseur) is a bronze sculpture by Auguste Rodin, usually placed on a stone pedestal. The work shows a nude male figure of over life-size sitting on a rock with his chin resting on one hand as though deep in thought, and is often used as an image to represent philosophy. There are about 28 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, as well as various other versions, several in plaster, studies, and posthumous castings, in a range of sizes. Rodin first conceived the figure as part of another work in 1880, but the first of the familiar monumental bronze castings did not appear until 1904.
Originally named The Poet (French: Le Poète), the Thinker was initially a figure in a large commission, begun in 1880, for a doorway surround called The Gates of Hell. Rodin based this on The Divine Comedy of Dante, and most of the many figures in the work represented the main characters in the epic poem. Some critics believe The Thinker, at the centre of the composition over the doorway and at about 70 cm high larger than most other figures, was originally intended to depict Dante at The Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. However, there are questionable aspects to this interpretation, including that the figure is naked, Dante is fully clothed throughout his poem, and that the figure, as used, in no way corresponds to Dante’s effete figure. The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.
This detail from the Gates of Hell was first named The Thinker by foundry workers, who noted its similarity to Michelangelo’s statue of Lorenzo de Medici called “Il Penseroso” (The Thinker). Rodin decided to treat the figure as an independent work, at a larger size. The figure was designed to be seen from below, and is normally displayed on a fairly high plinth, though the heights chosen by the various owners for these vary considerably.