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When Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ moved inside the BMA

Jacob Epstein, the Baltimore businessman, art collector and philanthropist, gave Baltimore one of its finest treasures in 1928.

That year, he bought a bronze casting of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” while on a Paris art shopping trip.

The 78-inch-high bronze — larger than the 27-inch original — was for placement outside the Baltimore Museum of Art, then under construction on Art Museum Drive.

The statue was unveiled in April 1930, when Epstein suggested raising the city property tax a few cents to fund the purchase of more art for the museum. His suggestion was not taken.

Epstein, who was born in Lithuania, died in 1945.

“The Thinker” remained for four decades perched on an elevated granite base. In November 1970, the large bronze sculpture had accumulated a thick green exterior crust. It was crated and sent to Joseph Ternbach, a bronze conservator working in New York City.

Cleaned and beeswax coated, “The Thinker” returned to Baltimore in April 1971, and was placed inside the museum, where it remains.

“To put it back outside would lead to its disfiguration, first destroying it aesthetically, and ultimately destroying it structurally,” Ternbach said. He added that the corrosive city air had “eaten the bronze down to the point where it could not survive another cleaning.”

Not everyone approved of the move. Patricia Barnes, in her letter to The Sun on Aug. 28, 1971, wrote, “It seems a shame. The figure loses some of the grandeur and dignity height gave him and more importantly it is now estranged from a daily communion with the world outside.”

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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