If you’ve driven down Third Street during the past two months, past Grawemeyer Hall at the University of Louisville, you may have noticed that our famous copy of Rodin’s statue of The Thinker went missing. But not to worry. Louisville's beloved naked man is back on his perch today, after a brief trip to the beauty shop.
The Thinker, the first full-size that Rodin cast, was removed from campus for a few weeks to be cleaned and restored. He was cleaned and restored to a dark brown patina with a hint of green – a color to which sculptor Rodin was partial, according Shelley Reisman Paine, who performed 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. And certainly all the folks at U of L are now happy to see the restoration and returning of 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."
Louisville.com's The Arena section features opinions from active participants in the city's politics. Their viewpoints are not those of Louisville.com (a website is an inanimate object and, as such, has no opinions). Photo credits: WDRB, U of L.