Sculpture Techniques of "The Thinker "Statue

by Nora Zavalczki

"The Thinker" is a monumental sculpture created by the French artist Auguste Rodin. Rodin's sculptures were faithful to nature, and "The Thinker" executes this philosophy to the minutest detail. The sculpture has a great expressive intensity; Rodin managed to portray feelings through the subject's external features. Rodin used a casting technique to make the sculpture; the original piece was created in bronze, which is a versatile sculpting medium.

The Story of "The Thinker"

The sculpture was conceived in 1880 when Rodin was 40 years old. "The Thinker" was intended as part of Rodin's monumental work "Gates of Hell," which was supposed to be placed in front of a museum in Paris. The concept was inspired by Dante Alighieri's "Inferno," and the figure of the thinker was supposed to represent either Dante or a universal poet/creator. For this reason, Rodin initially displayed the sculpture with the title of "The Poet," and in 1886 it became "The Thinker." Rodin said about the piece that it thinks not only with his brain but "with very muscle of his arms, back, and legs, with his clenched fist and gripping toes."

The Making of the Sculpture

The original "Thinker" was cast in bronze. However, before Rodin made the bronze sculpture, he prepared several studies, and the first version of "The Thinker" was created in plaster in 1880. The making of a bronze sculpture involves a complex process in several steps; the first step is to create a model of the sculpture in clay. Rodin created his pieces in such great detail that he was accused of modeling his sculptures directly from live subjects. The next step involves covering the clay sculpture in a uniform layer of wax as well as another, thicker layer of clay, which becomes the mold. After the clay is dry, the artist pours molten bronze through a hole on the top of the sculpture. The bronze melts the wax, and after the bronze solidifies and cools down, the artist removes the exterior mold with a chisel. To obtain a hollow statue, the artist also removes the clay model, by scraping out the clay from the interior of the bronze statue through a hole at the bottom of the figure.

Finish and Patina

After the bronze sculpture was removed from the mold, the artist polished the metal. He also added some details by carving the metal surface. Rodin varnished his sculpture to transform the initial yellowish color of bronze into a darker hue. Over time, bronze acquires a green patina; this patina may be obtained on new sculptures by applying chemicals that react with the bronze. "The Thinker" statue rests on a marble stand.

Replicas of "The Thinker"

The initial size of the sculpture was 28-1/8-by-14-5/16-by-23-7/16 inches; there are over 20 replicas in various sizes, some of which were posthumous castings. Certain artists also create studies and reproductions of "The Thinker" in other metals through casting, or in marble or stone using the technique of subtraction.

Photo Credits

  • Karl Weatherly/Photodisc/Getty Images