It was Dante, the Florentine poet of the Renaissance, observing characters from his Divine Comedy in Hell, whom Rodin chose to depict in the centre of the tympanum of his monumental The Gates of Hell. Initially referred to under the title The Poet, in the end the sculpture became a separate work, The Thinker. Rodin produced it in a number of versions and various sizes. As the artist explained: “Before these Gates, seated on a rock, Dante, engrossed in deep contemplation, conceived the outline of his poem . . . . Guided by my first inspiration, I conceived another 'Thinker,' a naked man, crouched on a rock, on which his feet are clenched. His fist pressed against his teeth, he ponders. Slowly, fertile thoughts are formulated in his brain. He is not a dreamer, he is a creator.” Its powerful musculature was inspired by the classical Belvedere Torso, while its inner tension is reminiscent of Michelangelo’s work.
This version was purchased directly from the artist in 1909 on the occasion of its presentation at the Art Association of Montreal (now the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts). It was cast by the Rudier foundry, and its patina was entrusted to the specialist Jean Limet, whose work Rodin appreciated for its special vibrancy and acute sense of colour. Drips, abrasions, and variations in colour – green and browns, as well as Prussian blue, can be seen – gave an initially monochrome material life and warmth. Such a daring conception of patina, also found in the work of an artist like Carriès, derived from the Japoniste aesthetic, which gave the accidental and random results of technical and chemical processes a new role in the rendering of forms and textures.