Of all the public outdoor sculptures on campus, this is probably the most familiar to people: The Thinker by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Lying on the lawn in front of Philosophy Hall The Thinker is six feet tall without its base, adding nearly another six feet to its overall height.
Rodin began his career in the mid-1870s after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, a time when numerous monumental sculptures appeared across Paris as a form of patriotism towards the newly formed government of the Third Republic. His Paris contemporaries included the Impressionist painters Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. Although Rodin's sculptures are figurative in nature and arguably an adaptation of classical forms, due to their strong hyperrealism and fragmentation of the body, art historians see them as the beginning of a modernist sensitivity to abstraction in sculpture. The Thinker was originally designed in 1880-82 as the central figure at the top of its monumental doors, The gate of hell . The seated male nude was supposed to represent Dante contemplating his journey to Hell, as recounted in his epic poem from hell . The order for the doors did not materialize, and so Rodin began to market individual sculptures on the portal as independent art objects. He has the first life-size versions of The Thinker 1903.
After Rodin's death, his studio continued to produce bronze casts based on the sculptor's original models under his name. Columbia's replica of The Thinker was commissioned in 1930 by then President Nicholas Murray Butler of the Musée Rodin and cast in bronze by Alexis Rudier, Rodin's preferred foundry. The sculpture that stands on the lawn in front of Philosophy Hall symbolizes wisdom and knowledge, the importance of the thought process required to stand out in an academic study.