Lot 2
  • 2

Auguste Rodin

800,000 - 1,000,000 GBP
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  • Auguste Rodin
  • Penseur, petit modèle
  • inscribed A. Rodin and with the foundry mark Alexis Rudier Fondeur Paris; inscribed with the raised signature A. Rodin on the underside of the base
  • bronze
  • height: 37.6cm.
  • 14 3/4 in.


Musée Rodin, Paris

Sale: Galerie Georges Giroux, Brussels, 18th October 1952, lot 169

Pol Depasse, Brussels (sold: Sotheby’s, London, 26th March 1985, lot 1)

Purchased at the above sale by the late owner


George Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, nos. 167-169, illustrations of another cast pp. 73-74

George Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1944, illustration of the plaster p. 40

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 & 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. 111-120

Albert E. Elsen (ed.), Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, D.C., 1981, illustration of the clay 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

Hélène Pinet, Rodin Sculpteur et les photographes de son temps, Paris, 1985, illustrations of other casts pp. 80-83

Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. II, edition catalogued p. 587

Catalogue Note

Now recognised as one of the most famous images in the history of western art, Rodin’s Penseur was first conceived as part of his monumental Gates of Hell. 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’ (Rodin, quoted in Raphaël Masson & Véronique Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 38). Transcending Dante's narrative, Penseur became a universal symbol of reflection and creative genius.

Rodin envisaged 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’ (C. Mauclair, ‘L'Art de M. Rodin’, in La Revue des Revues, 18th June 1898).

The larger size of this model was conceived in 1880-81, and was first exhibited in Copenhagen in 1888. The following year it was shown in Paris, with the original title Dante revised to read Le penseur: le poète. 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, 1st December 1917). 

For over thirty years the present work was in the private collection of Lord and Lady Attenborough, who acquired it at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1985. Richard Attenborough was a celebrated English award-winning film actor, director and producer. He was also the President of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Richard Attenborough and his wife, the English actress Sheila Sim, were married for 69 years, during which time they passionately collected works of art for their London home. Parts of their impressive collection of Modern British art, including works by Laurence Lowry, Graham Sutherland, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Edward Burra, were sold at Sotheby's London in 2009, and more recently in November 2016, alongside a large collection of Picasso ceramics acquired during their summer holidays near Vallauris in the south of France.