CLOSE
Original image

12 Things You Didn't Know About 'The Thinker'

Original image

Few sculptures are as iconic as Auguste Rodin's The Thinker. Even if you think you know all there is to this contemplative carving, we'd wager there are some surprises on this list. 

1. The Thinker is the breakout star of a bigger work. 

The depiction of a nude man hunched over in apparent thought was originally part of Rodin’s The Gates of Hell. Standing nearly 20 feet tall, the work was meant to capture the first section of Dante Alighieri's epic poem Divine Comedy. The Thinker can be seen perched above the door.

2. The Gates of Hell was commissioned for an ill-fated museum. 

Rodin was hired to make the sculpture for a new museum of decorative arts in Paris. The grand size and incredible detail of the towering piece required 37 years of work from Rodin. In all that time, the Gates of Hell was never finished and the museum itself was never built.

3. The Thinker is not its given name.

Rodin originally called this pondering figure The Poet. This name supports the theory that the statue was meant as a depiction of Dante. But because The Thinker doesn’t fit with the 19th century view of a tall, slim Dante, some have seen a more allegorical nature: They theorize that it might be Rodin himself regarding his creation, or perhaps the biblical Adam considering the sins of his descendants. The name The Thinker is credited to foundry workers who felt the sculpture bore a notable resemblance to Michelangelo's sculpture of the same name.

4. Michelangelo's work was an influence on the piece.

However, it wasn't Michelangelo’s pose Rodin was purposefully referencing. Rodin chose to make his Thinker naked to follow in the style of the heroic nudes of Michelangelo and his Renaissance brethren. It's also suspected that the works of Rodin's contemporary, German sculptor Hugo Rheinhold, were an inspiration. Art historians cite the pair's shared interest in poses that favored the natural and realistic postures of man. 

5. The Thinker NEARLY HAD A WARDROBE.

During the lengthy creation of The Gates of Hell, Rodin toyed with the idea of a clothed Thinker/Poet. "Thin ascetic Dante in his straight robe separated from all the rest would have been without meaning," he wrote. "Guided by my first inspiration I conceived another thinker, a naked man, seated on a rock, his fist against his teeth, he dreams. The fertile thought slowly elaborates itself within his brain. He is no longer a dreamer, he is a creator."

6. The Thinker wasn't Rodin's only Gates of Hell spin-off.

Did you know fine art could have spin-offs? From the original 19x13x3 foot work, the French sculptor made independent versions of The Thinker, The Three Shades, and The Kiss. 

7. The Thinker went solo in 1888.

Rodin experimented with a plaster cast version of his Gates of Hell standout. Measuring around 3 feet tall, The Thinker made its individual exhibition debut, which proved popular enough to inspire Rodin to think bigger. Next he made the slightly larger-than-life version we know today. Cast in bronze, this Thinker was 6 feet tall and became the center of instant media praise. 

8. THESE BIGGER sculptures marked a major comeback for Rodin.

The sculptor spent a chunk of the 1890s working on an impressionist statue Monument to Balzac. Commissioned to commemorate the 19th century French novelist Honoré de Balzac, this unusual take on a memorial statue earned critical scorn, and the commissioners, the Society of Men of Letters, threatened a lawsuit. Rodin was forced to take back the sculpture, which he housed in his home in Meudon. With the turn of the century came the rousing success of The Thinker, which made people forget his monumental misstep. 

9. You can see The Thinker all over the world. 

In his lifetime, Rodin made at least 10 castings of The Thinker. Upon his death in 1917, the rights to recast it were given to the nation of France. Since then, that number has grown to over 20. (The exact figure is a matter of debate.) Today, plaster and bronze versions of The Thinker can be seen in Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria, Geneva's Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, Washington D.C.'s National Gallery of Art, and Paris' Musée Rodin, just to name a few. There's also one that marks Rodin's grave. 

10. A TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION MADE SO MANY CASTINGS POSSIBLE.

Doubling the size of The Thinker for its 6-foot versions (known as monumentals) was made much easier by the invention of the Collas Machine. Invented by its namesake Achille Collas in 1836, this device allowed a sculptor to trace (for lack of a better word) their completed plaster cast while a corresponding tool would carve a replicate in clay in the exact measurements required. 

11. Cleveland's Thinker was the victim of a terrorist attack. 

The Thinker is traditionally displayed outdoors, and The Cleveland Museum of Art followed suit when it acquired a casting. Thus, The Thinker was defenseless in the wee hours of March 24, 1970, when unidentified bombers strapped what is suspected to have been three sticks of dynamite to its base. The explosion blew off The Thinker's feet and irreparably damaged the legs. The local police believed the Weather Underground were responsible, but the identities of the bombers have never been determined. The sculpture is still on exhibit, though it has not been restored. 

12. Rodin knew the secret of The Thinker’s success. 

The immense popularity of the piece has frequently been credited to the familiar emotion it projects, of being lost deep in thought, frozen from action. Rodin explained, "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."

Original image
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
arrow
presidents
Barack Obama Taps Kehinde Wiley to Paint His Official Presidential Portrait
Original image
Kehinde Wiley
Kehinde Wiley Studio, Inc., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Kehinde Wiley, an American artist known for his grand portraits of African-American subjects, has painted Michael Jackson, Ice-T, and The Notorious B.I.G. in his work. Now the artist will have the honor of adding Barack Obama to that list. According to the Smithsonian, the former president has selected Wiley to paint his official presidential portrait, which will hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

Wiley’s portraits typically depict black people in powerful poses. Sometimes he models his work after classic paintings, as was the case with "Napoleon Leading the Army Over the Alps.” The subjects are often dressed in hip-hop-style clothing and placed against decorative backdrops.

Portrait by Kehinde Wiley
"Le Roi a la Chasse"
Kehinde Wiley, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Smithsonian also announced that Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald has been chosen by former first lady Michelle Obama to paint her portrait for the gallery. Like Wiley, Sherald uses her work to challenge stereotypes of African-Americans in art.

“The Portrait Gallery is absolutely delighted that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald have agreed to create the official portraits of our former president and first lady,” Kim Sajet, director of the National Portrait Gallery, said in a press release. “Both have achieved enormous success as artists, but even more, they make art that reflects the power and potential of portraiture in the 21st century.”

The tradition of the president and first lady posing for portraits for the National Portrait Gallery dates back to George H.W. Bush. Both Wiley’s and Sherald’s pieces will be revealed in early 2018 as permanent additions to the gallery in Washington, D.C.

Original image
Made.com
arrow
Art
What the Homes of the Future Will Look Like, According to Kids
Original image
Made.com

Ask a futurist what the house of tomorrow will feature and she might mention automatic appliances and robot assistants. Ask a kid the same question and you’ll get answers that are slightly more creative, but not altogether impractical. That’s what Made.com discovered when they launched Homes of the Future, a project that had kids draw illustrations of futuristic homes that served as the basis for professional 3D renderings.

According to Co.Design, the UK-based furniture retailer recruited children ages 4 to 12 to submit their architectural ideas. The doodles, sketched in pen, marker, and colored pencil, showcase the grade-schoolers' imaginations. Paired with each picture is concept art made with a 3D illustrator that shows what the homes might look like in the real world.

The designs range from colorful and whimsical to coldly realistic. In one blueprint, drawn by Ameen, age 10, a neighborhood of rainbow buildings and flowers float among the clouds. Another sketch by Ellis, age 7, shows a “home built to last” with titanium, bricks, a steel roof, and bulletproof windows. Some kids seemed less concerned with durability than they were with the tastiness of the infrastructure. Cherry-flavored bricks, candy windows, and a giant jelly slide were just some of the features built into the future homes. Sustainability was also a major theme, with solar panels appearing on two of the houses.

Check out the original artwork and the 3D versions of their ideas below.

House of the future drawn by kid.

House of the future drawn by kid.

House of the future drawn by kid.

House of the future.

House of the future.

House of the future.

House of the future.

House of the future.

House of the future.

House of the future.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of Made.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios