FRAME|WORK: The Thinker by Auguste Rodin

FRAME|WORK is a weekly blog series that highlights an artwork in the Museums' permanent collections. This week, we feature an iconic work by the father of modern sculpture, Auguste Rodin. The Thinker is currently on view in the Court of Honor at the Legion of Honor.

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840–1917). The Thinker, 1904. Cast bronze. Gift of Alma de Bretteville Spreckels. 1924.18.1

Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, perhaps his best-known monumental work, was first conceived as a depiction of the poet Dante, but soon evolved to represent all artists in the pivotal act of intellectual creation.

Originally designed to occupy the center of the tympanum for The Gates of Hell, the intended doorway for the proposed museum of decorative arts in Paris, The Thinker was seen as an independent figure almost immediately. An early twenty-seven-inch version of The Thinker was first exhibited in Copenhagen in 1888. The following year, a similar version of the sculpture made its Parisian debut at the Exposition Monet-Rodin at the Galerie Georges Petit. The first over-life-size enlargement was exhibited at the Salon of 1904 and soon after the most famous cast of the work was placed in front of Paris's renowned Pantheon.

The first large-version Thinker was cast in 1904 by A.A. Hébrard for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Saint Louis, but it did not meet Rodin's robust standards and was rejected by the artist. From that point on, Rodin turned principally to the founder Alexis Rudier for his casts, and the Legion’s example is one of the several commissioned during the artist’s lifetime.

Alma Spreckels acquired The Thinker from Rodin in 1915 after she was introduced to the artist by their mutual friend Loïe Fuller. Later that year, our Thinker was included in the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, and at the close, the monumental figure was installed in Golden Gate Park.

Over the next thirty-five years, Mrs. Spreckels assembled a formidable collection of Rodin sculpture. The Thinker was one of the earliest acquisitions of the more than seventy Rodin sculptures that Mrs. Spreckels purchased and later donated to the Legion of Honor. Comprising works made throughout the artist's career and ranging in media, the Spreckels collection at the Legion is one of the finest of its kind outside of France. When the museum opened in 1924, The Thinker was transferred from its perch in Golden Gate Park to the Legion of Honor, where it has remained an emblem of the institution ever since.

Don't even think about missing this definitive work of art with a long San Francisco history permanently on view in the Court of Honor at the Legion of Honor!