Probably the single most iconic image in Rodin's oeuvre, Le Penseur was conceived circa 1880 for the center of the tympanum of his Gates of Hell. Rodin originally intended the figure to represent Dante, surrounded by all the characters of the Divine Comedy, but while working on the maquettes for the doors his conception changed to a more generalized figure symbolizing the thinker, the creator and the dreamer - a symbol of the poet and of creative genius.

This work belongs to the group of major early sculptures inspired by Michelangelo, whose art deeply affected Rodin when he first visited Italy in 1875. This monumental figure was discussed by the artist shortly before his death, when he made clear his concern with expressing the act of thinking: "Nature gives me my model, life and thought; the nostrils breathe, the heart beats, the lungs inhale, the being thinks and feels, has pains and joys, ambitions, passions, emotions... 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 Saturday Night, Toronto, December 1, 1917). Although made for Gates of Hell, Rodin considered The Thinker as an independent work, and it was first exhibited as such in Copenhagen in 1888.

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