Le Penseur (The Thinker), Petit Modèle
Signed 'A. Rodin'
Inscribed with the foundry mark 'Alexis RUDIER. Fondeur. PARIS.' and with raised interior signature 'A. Rodin'
Bronze with green and brown patina
Height: 14 7/8” (37.7 cm)
Conceived in 1881-1882; this example cast by Alexis Rudier between 1920-1930.
Provenance & Comité Rodin certificate available on request.
Auguste Rodin’s Le Penseur (The Thinker) is one of the most iconic sculptures in art history. The timeless work has become internationally recognisable as a symbol for the depths of humanity’s intelligence and philosophical genius. This, however, was not always the artist’s intention.
Auguste Rodin initially conceived the sculpture as an integral piece for the tympanum of his monumental work, La Porte de l’Enfer (The Gates of Hell). Inspired by Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Rodin originally called the sculpture, Le Poète (The Poet), and positioned it as an omniscient figure presiding over the tumultuous scenes of judgement and damnation below. Both spectator and participant in Dante’s phantasm of Hell, the sculpture immediately became a powerful and transcendent figure for critics, collectors and enthusiasts alike.
Detail of Le Penseur (The Thinker) from The Gates of Hell, Musée Rodin, Paris, France.
The significance of Le Penseur was not lost on Rodin. The sculptor explained his decision to redefine Le Poète into The Thinker we all know today, stating that the “project was not realised” and that simply replicating the original piece from La Porte de l’Enfer “would have been without meaning”.
“Guided by my first inspiration I conceived another thinker, a naked man, seated upon a rock, his feet drawn under him, his fist against his teeth, his dreams. The fertile thought slowly elaborates itself within his brain. He is no longer dreamer, he is creator.”
Quoted in J. Tancock, 1976. p. 111
Soon after its creation, the sculptor redeveloped the figure into a freestanding piece that is no longer associated to the torment of La Porte de l’Enfer, but instead challenges one definitive interpretation by inviting admirers to create their own unique perceptions. It cemented Rodin’s widespread fame and is considered his artistic legacy.
“The fame of its creator ... the memorable pose, and it’s susceptibility to varied interpretation, including satire, have contributed to making The Thinker perhaps the most famous modern sculpture in the world.”
Quoted in A.E. Elsen & R.F. Jamison, 2003. p.174
Le Penseur was immediately highly sought after by collectors and art institutions. Rodin first exhibited the work in Copenhagen in 1888, but didn’t officially change the name from Le Poète to Le Penseur until the landmark Monet-Rodin exhibition of 1889 in Paris.
The work’s immense popularity led to Rodin casting the model in three sizes: the original size, an enlarged one, and a reduced version for the collectors’ market. The first larger cast was made in 1902, before being presented to the City of Paris in 1906. It was originally sited in front of the Pantheon and then moved to the Musée Rodin in 1922. The piece is indicative, perhaps more so than any of Rodin’s major early works, of Michelangelo’s influence on Rodin’s sculptural style.
Le Penseur (The Thinker), Musée Rodin, Paris, France.
The sculptor was greatly inspired by the art of Michelangelo during his visit to Italy in 1875. This resounding influence is evident in the figure’s contrapposto stance, similar to Michelangelo’s Bacchus (1497), and the seated, pensive pose also seen in the Renaissance artist’s Crouching Boy (1530).
Rodin was also revered for sculpting Le Penseur, along with many of his other works, from the natural movements of a live model. This technique gives Le Penseur a human fluidity of both mind and body, infusing the sculpted form with living and breathing qualities. It is reflective of the power of mind and body to instigate introspection and action, and transforms the act of contemplation into an all-encompassing undertaking.
“What Rodin did in this figure was to rethink the visual concept of a cogitating male and to accentuate the total effort required of mind and body to resolve a difficult problem. The lowered head alone, caused by the crossover gesture of the right arm to the left thigh, both of which are part of the body’s expression of total self-absorption, separates Rodin’s Thinker from the many prototypes proposed by scholars.”
Quoted in A.E. Elsen & R.F. Jamison, 2003. p.174
This present work is an example of the reduced version of Le Penseur cast for the collectors’ market. The bronze was cast between 1920 and 1930 by the Alexis Rudier Foundry, which produced many of Rodin’s most famous works after the sculptor granted the foundry exclusive rights from 1902 until 1952.
A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, vol. II, Paris, 2007, p. 587.
A.E. Elsen & R.F. Jamison, Rodin’s Art: The Rodin Collection of Iris & B Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts Stanford University, New York, 2003, p. 174
A.E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, pp. 52-55 & 57.
A.E. Elsen, Rodin's Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture, New Haven & London, 1985, pp. 4, 7-8, 11-12, 17 & 48.
A.E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, 1985, pp. 71 & 73-74.
C. Lampert, Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1986, p. 24 (another version illustrated p. 25).
G. Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1927, no. 143, p. 61 (the plaster illustrated).
H. Martinie, Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917, Paris, 1949, pl. 19 (the plaster illustrated).
I. Jianou & C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, p. 88 (another cast referenced).
J. de Caso & P.B. Sanders, Rodin's Sculpture: A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 131 & 133-134. A.E. Elsen, ed., Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, 1981, pp. 66-67.
J. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 111-112, 114 & 116.
K. Varnedoe, Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, London, 2001, no. 73, pp. 96 & 175 (another cast illustrated pl. 73, p. 97).