Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker is perhaps one of the most well-recognized sculptures in the world. The sculpture depicts a man sitting on a rock appearing deep in thought as he rests his chin on his hand and stares fixedly downward. Rodin’s command of bronze is exceptional as evidenced in the muscle and facial details of the figure. The Thinker has become a symbol of philosophical thought, introspection, freedom, and knowledge since its unveiling in Paris at the turn of the 20th century.
The Thinker was originally conceived as part of a larger work known as The Gates of Hell, which was commissioned by the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1880. Rodin originally referred to his pensive subject as The Poet, presumably in reference to Dante Alighieri, writer of The Divine Comedy from which The Gates of Hell takes its reference. The Decorative Arts Museum was never constructed and The Gates was never cast, but a replica at the Musée D’Orsay in Paris shows what the completed work would have looked like, showing the poet gazing down upon the tortured souls of Inferno.
Of the 25 original versions of the statue that are in circulation, one of the most precious pieces is positioned at the main entrance of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Gifted to the museum in 1917, this sculpture is one of fewer than 10 casts that was supervised by Rodin before his death. The sculpture was purchased from the artist by Clevelander Ralph T. King and donated to the museum just before its grand opening. First displayed in the museum’s rotunda, the sculpture was soon moved outside so that it could be viewed by the public.
In March 1970, Cleveland’s The Thinker was vandalized and irreparably damaged by a bomb that was set by a radical political group thought to be protesting the Vietnam War and American elitism. The blast sent the statue tumbling to the ground where the base and lower legs were destroyed. Rather than attempt to reconstruct Rodin’s original work, the museum decided to leave the damaged statue alone and allow the broken parts to prompt interest and conversation about its history. Today, visitors can view The Thinker at the entrance of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Inside the museum, visitors can find a miniature replica (also cast by Rodin) and compare the patina and preservation between the indoor and outdoor renditions.