Rodin's Thinker is perhaps his best known monumental work, first conceived circa 1880–1881 as a depiction of the poet Dante. The image evolved until it no longer represented Dante, but all poets or creators.
The work was designed to occupy the center of the tympanum of The Gates of Hell, which were intended to be a portal of a new Musée des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. The Thinker was designed as an independent figure almost from the time the Gates were composed, and was exhibited in Paris in 1889 at the Exposition Monet-Rodin at the Galerie Georges Petit. A bronze cast dated 1896 at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire in Geneva reproduces the original twenty-seven inch version. The first over-life-size enlargement was exhibited at the Salon of 1904. At this time a subscription was begun for the most famous cast of it, that for the city of Paris, which was placed in front of the Pantheon.
Bronze casts of the large Thinker were not made by Rodin himself, but by a professional reducteur, Henri Lebosse, under the artist's supervision. The first large bronze (University of Louisville) was cast by A. A. Hebrard in 1904 for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, but was rejected by the artist. Rodin turned principally to the founder Alexis Rudier for subsequent casts, and the Legion's example is one of several commissioned during Rodin's lifetime. Mrs. Spreckels purchased it through their mutual friend, Loie Fuller. The Thinker is one of the earliest acquisitions of the more than seventy Rodin sculptures that Mrs. Spreckels purchased and later donated to the Legion of Honor.
A partial list of full size bronze casts of The Thinker
In the US
- Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, MD
- Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, Stanford, CA
- Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
- Columbia University, New York, NY
- Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, MI
- Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA
- Rodin Museum, Philadelphia, PA
- University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
- Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, MD
Outside the US
- City Museum of Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan
- Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Bielefeld, Germany
- Musée Rodin, Meudon, France
- Musée Rodin, Paris, France
- National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, Japan
- Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, Denmark
- Prince Eugen Museum, Stockholm, Sweden
- Pushkin Museum, Moscow, Russia