Unlike the Mona Lisa or Venus di Milo, Auguste Rodin’s Thinker is a sculpture that you can visit in many places around the world. The first ever casting of The Thinker can be found at the Allen R. Hite Art Institute on the University of Louisville campus in Louisville, Kentucky. Cast in 1904 by A. A. Hebrard for Rodin, that Thinker was created for the Louisiana Purchase Exposition being held that same year.
While The Thinker has become an iconic artwork on its own, it originated as a portion of one of Rodin’s larger works, The Gates of Hell, which was commissioned in 1880 by the Directorate of Fine Arts in Paris. The Gates of Hell is a large-scale sculpture that depicts a scene from the first section of Dante’s Divine Comedy, “The Inferno.” Centered over the doorway of The Gates of Hell sits The Thinker, which was originally named Le Poète (“the poet”).
There are slightly less than 30 large bronze casts of the Thinker, though most of these were done after Rodin’s death in 1917. San Francisco is lucky to be home to one of the Thinkers cast during Rodin’s lifetime. Rodin and Alma de Bretteville Spreckels, the founder of the Legion of Honor, shared a close mutual friend in the modern dancer Loïe Fuller. It was Fuller who was able to secure a commission for The Thinker for Spreckels.
Now, where else can you see the Thinker? There is a listing on Wikipedia, but I am doubtful of its accuracy regarding ante mortem and posthumous castings. The United States is home to ten Thinkers – more than any other country. In addition to displaying the first Thinker ever cast, the US is also where you can find the last Thinker Rodin cast before his death at the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio.
In Europe the most obvious place to see The Thinker is at the Musée Rodin in Paris. Housed in the lovely Hôtel Biron, the Musée Rodin is home to a slightly smaller version of The Thinker, as it is the original size Rodin intended “the poet” to be in The Gates of Hell. Japan is the best place to spot The Thinker in Asia. Kyoto, Tokyo and Shizuoka all have casts. In South America, Rodin fans must head to Buenos Aires to see the continent’s only full-size cast of The Thinker.