Lot 45
  • 45

Auguste Rodin

8,000,000 - 12,000,000 USD
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  • Auguste Rodin
  • Le Penseur, Taille de la Porte dit Moyen modèle
  • Inscribed A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris; additionally inscribed on a plaque affixed to the rock Le Penseur: Executé en 1906 dans mes ateliers et sous ma surveillance pour Monsieur Ralph Pulitzer, Auguste Rodin.
  • Bronze
  • Height: 28 1/8 in.
  • 71.5 cm


Ralph Pulitzer, New York (acquired from the artist in 1906)

Private Collection (by descent from the above)

William S. Paley, New York

Private Collection, New York (acquired from the Estate of the above)

Acquired from the above in 1995


Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, nos. 167-69, illustrations of the example at the Musée Rodin pp. 73-74

Henri Martinie, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1949, no. 19, illustration of another cast

Albert E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, illustrations of other casts pp. 25, 52 & 53

Ionel Jianou and Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, edition catalogued p. 88; illustration of another cast pl. 11

John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, edition catalogued and illustrations of other casts pp. 111-20

Albert E. Elsen, ed., Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, 1981, illustration of the clay version p. 67

Albert E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, 1985, figs. 50 & 60, illustrations of the clay model pp. 56 & 71

Antoinette le Normand-Romain, ed., The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of works in the Musée Rodin, vol. II, Paris, 2007, this cast listed p. 586, mentioned p. 594, illustrations of another cast p. 584-85


Excellent condition. The bronze bears a rich brown-green patina that is slightly rubbed on the thighs and chest. There is a small, shallow scuff on the figure's right calf and on left shin, but these are barely noticeable. The sculpture is sound and the patina is in very good condition.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

Rodin’s Le Penseur has become one of the most recognizable sculptures in art history. The works pertinence to Rodin's contemporaries was immediate and its continued relevance in today's visual culture has solidified the sculpture's legacy. Though he firmly grounded Le Penseurin intellectual history, Rodin transcended preceding imagery to create a true masterpiece that continues to transfix contemporary society.

Rodin first conceived of the model in 1880-81 to crown the tympanum of his monumental Gates of Hell (fig. 1).  The figure was 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).

This superb cast of the subject from 1906 boasts an impeccable provenance including American collectors Ralph Pulitzer and William S. Paley. The works' status as an humanist icon gave it an understandable appeal to these pioneers of American journalism. Transcending Dante's narrative, the Penseur became a universal symbol of reflection and creative genius which has retained its hold on the popular imagination.

Rodin conceived Le Penseur to be the apex, both structurally and philosophically, of his 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..." (Camille 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. The work's effect on critics and viewers was immediate and potent, allowing it to transcend the larger scheme of La Porte de l'Enfer. Artists such as Edward Steichen and Edvard Munch worked through a hypnotic attachment to the model (fig. 5).  Writer and critic Gabriel Mourey wrote of the work in 1906, “he is no longer the poet suspended over the pit of sin and expiation; he is our brother in suffering, curiosity, contemplation, joy, the bitter joy of searching and knowing. He is no longer a superhuman, a predestined human being; he is simply a man for all ages, for all latitudes” (“Le Penseur de Rodin offert par souscription publique au people de Paris,” Les Arts de la vie, vol. 1, no. 5 (May, 1904), p. 268). 

The form of Le Penseur relies upon a historical lineage traceable to Albrecht Dürer’s influential etching, Melancolia (fig. 2). Contained within this figural gesture – tilted head resting upon raised hand – were implications of introversion, philosophical crisis and intellectual profundity. Michelangelo relied upon a similar form for his personification of Lorenzo de Medici (fig. 3) and Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux would give the gesture a dark turn in his masterwork of 1865-67 (fig. 4). The allegorical force of this gesture was undeniable by the time Rodin conceived Le Penseur in 1880. Rodin strips away the narrative and specificity that permeated these earlier examples, rendering his sculpture with a clear humanist vision. 

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). 

This cast was commissioned in 1906 by Ralph Pulitzer, the son of publishing magnate Joseph Pulitzer. The Pulitzer family was introduced to Auguste Rodin by author and journalist Stephen MacKenna in 1905. MacKenna served as a Parisian correspondent for New York World between 1903 and 1907 – a newspaper owned by Joseph Pulitzer. MacKenna had written a review of Rodin in 1901 and subsequently acted as an intermediary between the artist and the Pulitzer family. Rodin would later refer to the family as the Kings of America, deservedly so as the Pulitzers were among the most important and influential figures in New York at the turn of the last century. Joseph Pulitzer’s rise from a Hungarian immigrant to a pillar of the publishing industry and wealthy collector personified the American dream. Joseph Pulitzer likewise commissioned a further cast of Le Penseur for his own collection in 1907. This subsequent cast, however, did not bear the distinctive plaque as we find on the present work which evidences Rodin’s personal supervision of the casting process.

The Alexis Rudier Foundry, known for having created some of the most desirable casts of Rodin's oeuvre, executed approximately 30 casts of Le Penseur in this scale beginning in 1902. Other casts from this edition hold positions in prominent museums including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washintgon, D.C.; The Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University; the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia; The Montreal Museum of Art and the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.