The Thinker dates to a period in Auguste Rodin’s oeuvre that was particularly marked by the influence of Michelangelo. Conceived as the frontispiece for the tympanum, or triangular pediment, to the great Gates of Hell, the work was to be a set of portals, commissioned in 1880 by the French government for a new Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The iconographical program of the doors was based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and The Thinker was identified as Dante himself until 1889, when the sculpture, in its original size, was shown at the Galerie Georges Petit under the title The Thinker: The Poet, Fragment of a Door. The idea of The Thinker, as the work is now called, changed from an ascetic representation of Dante to a massive, solid symbol of thinking man as creator. Although the doors were never made, and the museum project never realized, figures such as The Thinker were cast and copied during and following Rodin’s lifetime. The version of the sculpture originally planned for the Gates of Hell and exhibited in 1889 had the same dimensions as the cast that now belongs to the Smart Museum (and was produced by the foundry of Alexis Rudier). Enlargements and reductions of The Thinker were also made as independent works.
Resource: The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art: A Guide to the Collection, Sue Taylor and Richard Born, eds. New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1990, p. 88.