The Thinker, Sculpture

The Thinker Bombing, Forty-Five Years Later

Submitted by Matthew Gengler on

At approximately 12:44am on March 24, 1970 University Circle Police responded to a loud explosion emanating from the vicinity of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Witnesses later reported hearing the explosion from over two miles away, certainly close enough to wake then museum director Sherman Lee at his home in Cleveland Heights. Upon arriving at the museum he found the museum’s iconic sculpture the Thinker had been blown off the pedestal on which it had sat for fifty-three years by a pipe bomb. In addition to considerable damage to the legs of the sculpture, shrapnel from the explosion scarred the marble columns and front door of the museum.

Public outcry over the senseless act was immediate, over 1200 Clevelanders visited the museum the following day to survey the damage, colleagues from around the world sent letters of condolence, Rodin collectors offered to lend works in place of the damaged statue, even president Richard Nixon made mention of the incident in comments to congress. Despite a long search for the perpetrators of the bombing, the suspects were not caught.  

Purchased by museum trustee Ralph King in 1916 from the artist, the Cleveland statue is one of only eleven full-sized bronze casts of the original plaster, and one of the final works completed in Rodin's lifetime. Conceived as a generalized image of the poet Dante, the Thinker developed initially as the central figure in the artist’s Gates of Hell. Later Rodin enlarged several individual statues from the work, and in this manner the portrait of Dante became known simply as Le Penseur. In many ways, it is the most iconic and identifiable work by the artist

By the time the statue returned to the steps permanently, discussion of repairing the damage or recasting the legs of statue from the original had been long forgotten. Instead the museum decided to display the sculpture the Thinker as is, bent but not broken. A poignant reminder of more turbulent times in our nation’s history.

For more photos, see the Museum Archive's tumblr.