If you’ve driven down Third Street recently, past Grawemeyer Hall at the University of Louisville, you will notice that our famous copy of Rodin’s statue of The Thinker has gone missing. But not to worry. Unlike the various missing statues of Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald, and the Frisch’s Big Boy, the absent Thinker is not the work of thieves.
He’s just taking a bath. The Thinker, the first full-size that Rodin cast, is away from campus for a few weeks being cleaned and restored. For the next few weeks, he will be cleaned and restored to a dark brown patina with a hint of green – a color to which sculptor Rodin was partial, said Shelley Reisman Paine, who is performing the work.
“Our Thinker is world famous. He deserves to be presented as the artist Rodin created it,” said Kathleen Smith, chief of staff to the university president. “We look forward to seeing the restoration and returning The Thinker to his rightful seat in front of Grawemeyer Hall.”
The $74,000 restoration is part of the improvements to the Oval. Funding comes from federal and private sources. This Thinker sculpture was the only cast created by the lost-wax casting method.
The Thinker statue that sits on the steps of Grawemeyer Hall is the first full-size bronze cast of the work by French sculptor Auguste Rodin. Rodin personally supervised the casting on Dec. 25, 1903. Louisville’s famous statue first went on display at the 1904 World's Fair (briefly, until Rodin replaced him with a plaster version), was owned privately in Baltimore, and later was displayed in a gallery there. When Baltimore purchased another Thinker, it sold the 1903 version to the estate of lawyer and art lover Arthur Hopkins, which bought it for the city of Louisville. The city decided to put The Thinker at U of L, where he has sat in front of Grawemeyer Hall since 1949.
The origins of The Thinker date to 1880 when the French government commissioned Rodin to create a gate for a planned museum in Paris. He found inspiration in Michelangelo's depiction of Hell in the Sistine Chapel paintings and in Dante's epic poem "The Inferno" and created a prototype for a massive gate he called The Gates of Hell. A man he called The Poet sat atop the gate, contemplating the condemned souls below. Rodin refined the design over the next 20 years, even though Paris never built the museum.
Many art historians consider The Thinker to be the most famous sculpture in the world. Countless media campaigns and programs have used it. The statue even played an important role in the early days of television when it was incorporated in a popular TV show called "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."
The Thinker should be back in his rightful place by mid-January
In case you’re interested, copies of Rodin’s The Thinker can be found around the world, at the following locations:
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