Le Penseur


Cast Iron Bookends After Rodin's Le Penseur (The Thinker) Sculpture (LEO Design)

In 1880, French Modernist sculptor, Auguste Rodin, was commissioned to produce a monumentally-sculpted main door for a planned Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. The aesthetic theme and subject matter was left to Rodin's discretion, however, it was agreed that the door would be delivered five years later, in 1885.  Rodin worked on the commission (on and off) for 37 years, until his death in 1917.  

Rodin, inspired by the great Italian Poet Dante Alighieri, selected the theme "The Gates of Hell," taken from The Inferno.  He designed the model for a massive bronze door, embellished (on and around the door) with 180 cast figures (the smallest being about 6 inches tall and the largest a little over three feet).  Rodin originally named this largest figure "The Poet"—though scholars remain uncertain who this figure was meant to represent: Dante?  Adam?  Rodin himself?

In 1917, the year Rodin died, the model was taken to the foundry, to finally be cast in bronze.  "The Poet," the largest of the figures, had previously been cast (as a stand-alone piece) and reminded some of the metal workers of Michelangelo's Renaissance marble sculpture of Lorenzo di Medici—seated, pensively, atop his tomb in Florence—known by the Italian nickname Il Pensieroso ("The Thinker").   These workers re-named Rodin's "Poet" Le Penseur ("The Thinker").  Well before the doors were cast, Rodin had started to see the possibility of casting Le Penseur as a stand-alone piece.

Sadly, the planned Museum of Decorative Arts was never built.  So the original bronze door casting was sent to the brand new Musée Rodin in Paris (which opened in 1919).  Two more doors were cast at about the same time: one is at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia and the other is at the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo.  Subsequently (after Rodin's death) four other doors had been authorized and can be found in Zurich, Mexico City, Seoul, and at Stanford University in California.

"The Thinker" was cast independently—in a larger, monumental size—under Rodin's supervision in 1904.  Originally, it was placed outdoors, before The Pantheon, however it was moved into the Musée Rodin in 1922.  Another 27 monumental copies of The Thinker have been cast and can be found in various museums and other public locations around the world.  It is not clear which ones were created under Rodin's supervision.  And, subsequently, other, smaller versions have been cast (with or without Rodin's involvement).

These cast iron bookends were made only about 20 years after the first "Thinker" was unveiled in 1904.  But the iconic pose, its pensive energy, spoke volumes to people of the early Twentieth Century—as they contemplated the disruptive changes they witnessed around them: war, industry, modern life.  Perhaps Le Penseur still speaks to the human condition today.  Click on the photo to learn more about these bookends.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com)

We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248