His head bent down, chin resting on one hand, a furrowed brow and pressed lips: The Thinker, possibly one of the most famous sculptures of all time, has found a new home at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.
The bronze sculpture, on loan for a year from the Rodin Museum in Paris, is one of the original castings made by Auguste Rodin, sometime between 1881 and 1882.
“The sculpture itself is majestic and it’s extremely powerful,” said Souraya Noujaim, in charge of collections at the museum in the United Arab Emirates’ capital. “Rodin is one of the most iconic and most universal artists, so we’ve got really to have it in Louvre Abu Dhabi.”
The museum is designed to raise the oil-rich country’s culturally open image — even as it remains a federation of hereditarily ruled sheikhdoms. It’s seen as the anchor of a cultural district that stands still largely unbuilt on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE that’s more conservative than free-wheeling Dubai.
Noujaim said the museum wanted to cast The Thinker as contemplating the modern human condition.
“Rodin was one of the first artists to get really free from the academic schools. This is why we have it in this gallery, addressing the birth of modernity,” she said.
Rodin’s work was highly controversial in his own time. He traded the idealism of classical European art for a fluid more realistic movement of the body, and often tormented figures.
The Thinker is one of several works by Rodin Louvre Abu Dhabi holds, some on loan and others as part of the permanent collection.
“We have, I think, opened a path of renewing the way where museums work together,” Noujaim said.
Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel with a honeycombed dome of Arab-style geometric shapes, the museum is intended to be a bridge between East and West. The galleries display side by side Buddhist, Christian, Islamic and Jewish artifacts to highlight universally shared values.
The museum opened in November 2017 after a decade long wait and questions over laborers conditions. It is the first of several monumental projects to open on Saadiyat Island, which will also include a Guggenheim museum by the American architect Frank Gehry.
During construction, workers toiled for long hours in the brutal heat for low pay. Hundreds working on projects on the island, including the Louvre, were deported or lost their work visas for launching strikes over the harsh conditions, according to a 2015 Human Rights Watch report. Labor strikes are illegal in the UAE.
Authorities have not said how much it cost to build the museum. However, Abu Dhabi agreed to pay France $525 million for the use of the “Louvre” name for the next 30 years and six months, plus another $750 million to hire French managers to oversee the 300 loaned works of art. A center at Paris’ Louvre now bears the name of the late UAE President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, which was also part of the deal.
The collection includes archaeological wonders, like one of the oldest Quran’s ever found that dates from about 900, as well as modernist pieces by Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
The Thinker, originally called The Poet, was part of Rodin’s larger work The Gates of Hell, depicting a scene from Dante’s Inferno.
The original sculpture, just over 70 centimeters high, sits on top of the gate and is believed to portray Dante himself. It was first exhibited individually in 1888, before it was enlarged in 1904.
Many large-scale castings of The Thinker now exist worldwide, including the one in the garden of the Rodin Museum in Paris.