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Fact Sheet: The Thinker at the University of Louisville

by Janene Zaccone, communications and marketing last modified Apr 09, 2012 02:36 PM

Artist: Auguste Rodin Casting date: Dec. 25, 1903 Noteworthy: The Thinker sculpture at UofL is the first large casting of the piece.

History

Thinker development

  • Auguste Rodin originally conceived of The Thinker as a statue to be installed at the top of a pair of monumental doors, the design of which he had been commissioned to create for a museum of decorative arts. He envisioned the figure as the poet Dante, who wrote “The Inferno,” looking down on hell, and he titled the entire piece The Gates of Hell.
  • Rodin had cast a small bronze Thinker by 1888.
  • Because of the technology available at the time and the difficult pose the figure assumes, it took two years for Rodin’s “enlarger” to make a large-scale, 72-inch plaster of The Thinker. Rodin supervised the process.
  • The enlarged plaster then was replicated, making other plaster versions.
  • Rodin sent one of these plasters to the Adrien Hébrard foundry and another to the Alexis Rudier foundry.
  • Hébrard used the lost wax process to cast the first Thinker, now at UofL, on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, 1903.
  • Rudier used the sand cast process and completed casting of the second Thinker on Dec. 29, 1903; that one now stands in front of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
  • Because UofL’s Thinker is the first bronze casting of the sculpture that Rodin did on a large scale, it occupies a unique and important place in the history of The Thinker’s production.
  • Rodin rushed the sculpture through the casting and patination (coloring) phases so it could be shown at the World’s Fair in St. Louis, which opened in spring 1904.

St. Louis World’s Fair, 1904

  • Soon after Hébrard’s Thinker went on display in St. Louis, for reasons not perfectly understood, Rodin demanded that the organizers of the French Pavilion remove it from exhibition.
  • He sent a plaster of the sculpture to replace it. That plaster now is in storage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Walters Art Museum, Baltimore to the University of Louisville

  • Henry Walters, a founder of the Walters Art Gallery, (now museum), purchased the Hébrard Thinker from Rodin after the St. Louis world’s fair.
  • When the Baltimore Museum of Art acquired another, later cast of The Thinker, the Walters sold the one it owned to the estate of the late Arthur Hopkins of Louisville.
  • The Thinker has sat in front of Grawemeyer Hall since 1949.
  • As late as the early 2000s, the Walters Art Museum had a photo of UofL’s Thinker hanging in an alcove, titled “The One that Got Away.”

Conservation

  • Student pranks, pollution and aggressive cleaning took their toll over several decades.
  • Talk of cleaning and repatinating The Thinker began in 2001.
  • Art conservator Shelley Reisman Paine, Shelley Paine Conservation LLC, monitored the statue’s status through that decade.
  • All of the original patina was converted to corrosion products by the atmosphere or removed by cleaning. Brochantite, a copper sulfate, gave The Thinker an unpleasing blue color. Ash and other airborne pollutants left black deposits on the figure’s face and body.
  • In 2006, UofL art historians and curators John Begley, Dario Covi, Christopher Fulton and Jim Grubola met with Paine, Lins and John Zorabell, former associate curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, to discuss what measures to take.
  • Fulton sent letters to scholars, conservators and museum officials around the world to ask their opinion as to where UofL’s Thinker should be reinstalled. Most said it needed to return to its post in front of Grawemeyer Hall, where it would be seen in natural light as Rodin intended and remain a vital symbol for the university.
  • In 2011, UofL President James Ramsey asked Gov. Steve Beshear for permission to expand the scope of the federally funded project for the entrances at Third and Eastern Parkway and The Oval to include The Thinker’s conservation and to give it a new, Bedford limestone pedestal. The extension of the state-secured federal funds allowed the project to be implemented without spending university general funds.
  • Paine and Lins started conservation efforts in December 2011.
  • Before the statue was removed from its pedestal, Hayes Testing Laboratory from Louisville X-rayed it to see how it was installed and where the counterweight that keeps it from tipping forward was located.
  • Methods and Materials, a Chicago art rigging company, removed the sculpture from its pedestal and returned it Feb. 18.
  • Padgett Inc. of New Albany, Ind., lifted The Thinker from its pedestal and returned it to its pedestal.

Muldoon Memorial Co. of Louisville installed the limestone pedestal using Bedford, Ind., rock. Muldoon also installed the original pedestal.

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