- Auguste Rodin
- Le Penseur
Inscribed with the signature A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur, Paris; stamped with the raised signature in the interior
- Height: 14 7/8 in.
- 37.8 cm
Lucien Mellerio, Paris (acquired before 1919)
Hélène Mellerio, Paris (by descent from the above in 1943)
Estate of Lucien & Hélène Mellerio (sold: Hôtel Drouot, Etude Tajan, Paris, June 20, 2001 lot 9)
Private Collection (sold: Sotheby's, New York, November 7, 2001, lot 2)
Acquired at the above sale
Lucien Mellerio's inventory, no. 11 bis
Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1944, illustration of the plaster p. 40
Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, illustration of a larger cast p. 54
Robert Descharnes and Jean-François Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Lausanne, 1967, illustration of a larger cast p. 74
Athena Tacha Spear, Rodin Sculpture in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, 1967, no. X, illustration of a larger cast p. 11
John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, no. 3, illustration of a larger cast p. 113
B.G. Cantor Sculpture Center, Auguste Rodin, 1840-1917, New York, 1981, illustration of another cast p. 11
Albert E. Elsen, Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, D.C., 1981, illustrations of a larger cast pp. 66-67, 211
Rodin (exhibition catalogue), Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Martigny, 1984, illustration of another cast p. 63
Hélène Pinet, Rodin Sculpteur et Les Photographes de son temps, Paris, 1985, illustrations of other casts pp. 80-83
Albert E. Elsen, Rodin's Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture, New Haven and London, 1985, illustrations of other casts pp. 1-11, 34-46, 48-50, 52, 54-55
Catherine Lampert, Rodin, Sculpture & Drawings (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1986-87, no. 74, illustration of a larger cast pl. 44
Claude Monet – Auguste Rodin, Centenaire de l'exposition de 1889 (exhibition catalogue), Musée Rodin, Paris, 1989-90, illustration of another cast p. 175
Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of works in the Musée Rodin, vol. 2, Paris, 2007, listed p. 587
Perhaps the most celebrated sculpture of all time, Rodin's Penseur was conceived in 1880-81 to crown his monumental Gates of Hell. The figure was first intended to represent Dante, surrounded by the characters of his Divine Comedy, but soon took on an independent life. "Thin and ascetic in his straight gown", Rodin wrote later, "my Dante would have been meaningless once divorced from the overall work. Guided by my initial inspiration, I conceived another "thinker", a nude, crouching on a rock, his feet tense. Fists tucked under his chin, he muses. Fertile thoughts grow slowly in his mind. He is no longer a dreamer. He is a creator" (quoted in R. Masson & V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 38). Transcending Dante's narrative, the Penseur became a universal symbol of reflection and creative genius which has ever since retained its hold on the popular imagination.
Rodin's greatest sculpture bridges antiquity, the Renaissance and modernity. Le Penseur belongs to the group of major sculptures inspired by Michelangelo, whose art deeply affected Rodin when he first visited Italy in 1875. The figure was discussed by the artist shortly before his death, when he described his desire to personify the act of thinking: "Nature gives me my model, life and thought; the nostrils breathe, the heart beats, the lungs inhale, the being thinks and feels, has pains and joys, ambitions, passions, emotions... What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes" (quoted in Saturday Night, Toronto, December 1, 1917).
Rodin conceived Le Penseur to be the apex, both structurally and philosophically, of his humanist Gates of Hell. As Camille Mauclair noted in 1898, "All the sculptural radiance ends in this ideal center. This prophetic statue can carry in itself the attributes of the author of the Divine Comedy, but it is still more completely the representation of Penseur. Freed of clothing that would have made it a slave to a fixed time, it is nothing more than the image of the reflection of man on things human. It is the perpetual dreamer who perceives the future in the facts of the past, without abstracting himself from the noisy life around him and in which he participates..." (C. Mauclair, "L'Art de M. Rodin", La Revue des Revues, June 18, 1898). From at least 1888, when the sculpture was first exhibited in Copenhagen, Rodin considered Le Penseur to be an autonomous composition. The following year it was shown in Paris, with the original title Dante revised to read Le penseur: le poète.
In 1904, the enlarged version of Le Penseur was given to the city of Paris. Up until then the city lacked a public monument by the nation's most celebrated living sculptor. As John L. Tancock has observed: 'The Thinker, once it was detached from The Gates of Hell, where it had been seen as a figure despairing at man's powerlessness, now became the universal symbol of hope and belief in man's resourcefulness that it still is today' (ibid., p. 116). The present sculpture is catalogued under number 11 bis in Lucien Mellerio's (1879-1943) hand-written inventory of his collection. He describes the present bronze as 'superbe épreuve du vivant de Rodin' (a superb life-time cast by Rodin).