Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Penseur, petit modèle

Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Penseur, petit modèle
signed 'A. Rodin' (on the right side); inscribed with foundry mark 'ALEXIS RUDIER Fondeur Paris.' (on the back); with raised signature 'A. Rodin' (on the underside)
bronze with brown patina
Height: 14 in. (37.4 cm.)
Conceived between 1880-1881 and cast between 1920-1925
Musée Rodin, Paris.
Bruton Gallery, Somerset, United Kingdom.
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 14 April 1986.
G. Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1927, no. 143 (plaster version illustrated).
H. Martinie, Auguste Rodin, Paris, 1949, no. 19 (another cast illustrated, p. 25).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, pp. 52-53 (another version illustrated, p. 54).
I. Jianou and C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, p. 88, no. 11 (another version illustrated).
J.L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 111-112, 114 and 116 (another version illustrated, pp. 113 and 115).
J. de Caso and P.B. Sanders, Rodin's Sculpture, A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 128-131 (another cast illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, ed., Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, D.C., 1981, pp. 66-67 (another cast illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, California, 1985, pp. 71 and 73-74 (another cast illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin's Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture, New Haven, 1985.
C. Lampert, Rodin: Sculpture and Drawings, London, 1986, p. 24 (larger version illustrated, p. 25).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, pp. 174-179, no. 38 (another cast illustrated, pp. 174-175, 178). A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. II, p. 586 (larger version illustrated).

Lot Essay

This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2011-3570B.

Perhaps the best known and most widely reproduced of all modern sculptures, Le Penseur was conceived as part of La Porte de l'Enfer, a monumental gateway representing Dante's Inferno that the French government commissioned from Rodin in 1880. Most likely one of the first figures that Rodin modeled for the project, it is positioned in the completed gateway on a console in the center of the tympanum, where it dominates the composition. Rodin originally intended the figure as an image of Dante contemplating his own work and considered reproducing the poet's distinctive, gaunt physique and historical garb. He soon opted to divest the sculpture of such specific references, however, instead producing a timeless and universal symbol of reflection and creative genius. Rodin later recalled, "The Thinker has a story. In the days long gone by, I conceived the idea of The Gates of Hell. Before the door, seated on a rock, Dante, thinking of the plan of his poem. Behind him, Ugolino, Francesca, Paolo, all the characters of The Divine Comedy. This project was not realized. Thin, ascetic, Dante in his straight robe separated from the whole would have been without meaning. Guided by my first inspiration I conceived another thinker, a naked man, seated upon a rock, his feet drawn under him, his fist at his teeth, he dreams. The fertile thought slowly elaborates itself within his brain. He is no longer dreamer, he is creator" (quoted in A.E. Elsen, op. cit., 2003, p. 175).

In its final form, Le Penseur depicts a man with a mature, lined face and a rugged, powerful body. His head is lowered, his chin in his right hand and his right elbow resting on his left knee. Although the brooding power of the figure recalls works such as Michelangelo's Il Penseroso (Medici Chapel, San Lorenzo, Florence), which Rodin had admired on his trip to Italy in 1875, the calm immobility of Michelangelo's muscular intellectual has been supplanted in Le Penseur by a sense of suffering and struggle. Rodin explained, "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 J.L. Tancock, op. cit., p. 112). By 1884, Rodin had detached the figure from La Porte de l'Enfer and cast it in bronze as an independent work; it was first exhibited on its own in 1888 in Copenhagen and the next year at the important joint retrospective of Rodin and Monet at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris. The work began its real rise to fame in the early years of the twentieth century, following its enlargement to colossal proportions (189 inches high) and its reduction to half-scale (38 inches high) in 1902-1903. The largest version was first exhibited in bronze at the Paris Salon in 1904, where it occupied a privileged position under the central dome. The sculpture made such a strong impression at the Salon that a public subscription was launched to purchase it for the state; the colossal bronze was installed in front of the Panthéon in 1906, by which time the figure had thoroughly transcended its origins in La Porte de l'Enfer. The art critic Gabriel Mourey, who launched the appeal fund, explained: "We have chosen this magnificent work from among all the others because... it is no longer the poet suspended over the gulfs of sin and expiation... It is our brother in suffering, in curiosity, in thought, in joy, the bitter joy of seeing and knowing" (quoted in ibid., p. 114).

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