From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"In short, I suggest that at least part of the thick description of what le Penseur is trying to do in saying things to himself is that he is trying, by success/failure tests, to find out whether or not the things that he is saying would or would not be utilisable as leads or pointers."--"What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?", 1968, Gilbert Ryle
It is often used as an image to represent philosophy.
There are about 28 full size castings, in which the figure is about 186 cm 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, the piece was part of a commission by the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris to create a monumental portal to act as the door of the museum. Rodin based his theme on The Divine Comedy of Dante and entitled the portal The Gates of Hell. Each of the statues in the piece represented one of the main characters in the epic poem. The Thinker was originally meant to depict Dante in front of the Gates of Hell, pondering his great poem. (In the final sculpture, a miniature of the statue sits atop the gates, pondering the hellish fate of those beneath him.) The sculpture is nude, as Rodin wanted a heroic figure in the tradition of Michelangelo, to represent intellect as well as poetry.
More than any other Rodin sculpture, The Thinker moved into the popular imagination as an immediately recognizable symbol of intellectual activity; consequently, it has been subject to endless satirical use. This started in Rodin's lifetime. During the first season of the 1960s American sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, many episodes began and ended with the title character sitting on a park bench in the pose of the sculpture with a reproduction behind him.
More than twenty monumental size bronze casts of the sculpture are in museums around the world. In addition there are sculptures of different study size scales and plaster models in both monumental and study sizes. There are some newer castings that have been produced posthumously and are not considered part of the original production.
Rodin made the first small plaster version around 1880. The first large-scale bronze cast was finished in 1902, but not presented to the public until 1904. It became the property of the city of Paris – thanks to a subscription organized by Rodin admirers – and was put in front of the Panthéon in 1906. In 1922, it was moved to the Hôtel Biron, which was transformed into a Rodin Museum.
The first cast sculpture can be found in front of Grawemeyer Hall on the University of Louisville Belknap Campus in Louisville, KY. Made in Paris, it was first displayed at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904 and was then gifted to the city. This Thinker sculpture was the only cast created by the lost-wax casting method.
- "The Thinking of Thoughts: What is 'Le Penseur' Doing?" is an essay by Gilbert Ryle.