Rodin produced an over life-size plaster version for a1904 exhibition in Dresden (Grossen Kunstaustellung). It was later purchased by the city museum (Staatliche Kunstsammlung), where it can still be seen.
Rodin described The Thinker :
“ What makes my Thinker think is that he thinks not only with his brain, with his knitted brow, his distended nostrils and compressed lips, but with every muscle of his arms, back and legs, with his clenched fists, and gripping toes.”
Cited in “Auguste Rodin, Famous French Sculptor, Dead,” Fine Arts Journal, vol. 35, no. 12 (December 1917): 32.
An anonymous contemporary critic considered The Thinker evidence of Rodin’s mediocrity when he saw it at the 1904 Salon:
“M. Rodin lacks the two faculties that constitute great artists: he does not see plastic beauty; he does not understand the decorum that must exist between form and ideas….The Thinker offers all the physiognomic and physical traits that are antithetical to the idea of thought. It is the body of a stevedore, in a pose of lassitude, of physical constriction; the head is without a brain, the muscles are those of a primitive man. All the forms awaken ideas contrary to those of thought; ideas of material work, of brutality, of sorrow. The pose…seen in a certain light, [can] express meditation, [but] is contradicted by the importance of the body, and in sculpture it is an error to find expression by luminous artifices. Here, as elsewhere, M. Rodin, incapable of that sobriety which is the sign of power, makes a caricature….A work of art is beautiful when the forms are harmonious and correspond to the proposed theme.”
Anonymous, “Le Penseur de M. Rodin," Le Chroniquer de Paris (8 December 1904), translated and excerpted in Albert Elsen, Rodin’s Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1985), pp. 133-4.
Albert Elsen notes The Thinker’s openness to a variety of interpretations:
“Testifying to the fluidity of interpretation the statue invited, even those who had access to Rodin could not agree on who The Thinker was and what he was doing. Before 1903 he was a ‘superhuman’ or ‘thoughtful Dante’ capable of ‘deep understanding’ of the human soul or he was ‘an awful Thinker’ like ‘a bird or prey…contented in the vengeance he has meted out to the vile of the earth.’ He was ‘frightened himself by his work’ and a suffering ‘martyr to his own vision.’ He was not just a ‘poet,’ but an ‘eternal poet,’ an ‘observer,’ a ‘perpetual dreamer’ about the past and the future. Depending upon whom one read, he had an ‘inspired gaze,’ a ‘rapt and sinister countenance,’ ‘looked down on hell,’ or with ‘eyes fixed on the infinite’ he was ‘serene in his release from sorrow,’ He was seen to be ‘crouching’ or sitting on a ‘broken column,’ ‘head in hands,’ pressing his ‘fists against his teeth,’ or ‘his brain to the limit,’ He participated in the ‘noisy life around him,’ and he was ‘absorbed and silent.’ The Thinker was ‘heavy with thought’ and ‘the personification of thought,’ He was seen to be ‘reflecting on man and things human,’ while another writer read his ‘visionary’ look as an indication that he was a morally ‘strong man’ who was a ‘witness to suffering.’ Many agreed that he realized the subject of the great sculpture portal in his thought, and one perceptively recognized his centrality to the ‘decorative unity’ of the great composition [the Gates of Hell].”
Albert Elsen, Rodin’s Thinker and the Dilemmas of Modern Public Sculpture (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 1985), pp. 64-5.
Barbara Larson, "Mapping the Body and the Brain: Neurology and Localization Theory in the Work of Rodin," Canadian Art Review, vol. XXXIV, no. 1 (2009): 37-9.