Le Baiser (The Kiss), 4th Reduction
Inscribed F. Barbedienne Foundeur
Bronze with rich brown patina
Height: 10" (25.2 cm)
Conceived in 1886. This examples was cast in May 1914
The Comité Rodin states that between 93 and 103 examples were cast between 1898 and 1918
Like many of Auguste Rodin’s best-known works, the Kiss was initially conceived as part of the Gates of Hell – the artist’s most ambitious sculptural project, which occupied the last thirty-seven years of his life – but was eventually omitted from the final design. The artistic inspiration for the Gates derived from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which depicts the Italian poet’s epic journey through the Underworld. Rodin initially thought the Kiss would have to be the dominating piece of the composition, in place of the Thinker.
The subject of the sculpture is linked to an episode in Dante’s Inferno, where the poet meets Paolo and Francesca, two nobles of Rimini, who shared their first kiss while reading about the Arthurian love story between Lancelot and Guinevere. Tragically, the lovers were discovered by Francesca’s husband, who killed them. The pair descended to hell, damned for their illicit love. The story of Paolo and Francesca has received enormous attention in the History of European Art, and has been depicted by artists such as Sandro Botticelli, Ingres, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Auguste Doré.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, 1855, TATE Britain
In this circumstance, Rodin’s visual reinterpretation of the poem universalises its subject matter, expanding far beyond the boundaries of its literary background. The two sculpted figures are fused together in an ever-lasting embrace. As the woman’s arm encircles her lover’s neck, the man’s right-hand presses firmly but gently on her left thigh, enhancing the sinuosity of the composition. The stark contrast between the softness of the young lovers’ bodies and the rock on which they sit, highlights their youth and the tenderness of their gestures. The Kiss is now universally perceived as a visual epitome of passionate love.
The marble version of The Kiss was first exhibited as an independent group in 1887 in both Paris and Brussels. Rodin’s depiction of the embracing lovers met with a mixed reception during his lifetime. It was prudishly received at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, where it was considered unsuitable for public display and relegated to one of the inner rooms of the exhibition. In Britain too, the reception of the piece was highly controversial. When the American collector, Edward Warren, lent in 1914 a marble version of the sculpture to the town hall of Lewes, in East Sussex, its inhabitants considered it morally unsound, first demanding it be covered by a cloth and that the sculpture be returned to its owner.
Unlike Britain and the United States, the sculpture was applauded by the French public when exhibited in 1989. Its enthusiastic reception led the artist to sign a contract with the Barbedienne foundry, which allowed them to produce a bronze edition of the model in four sizes between 1898 and 1917 – the year of the artist’s death. This example is one of the 25cm edition cast by Barbedienne during Rodin’s lifetime, in May 1914.
With its illustrious literary background, artistic flair and controversial reception history, the Kiss is one of Rodin’s most fascinating works and is one of the world’s most recognizable sculptures.
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1901-1904, TATE Britain
Other casts and versions of The Kiss are part of museum collections such as the Musée Rodin, the TATE Britain, the Ny Carlsberg Museum in Copenhagen and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Antoinette le Normand-Romain, Le Baiser de Rodin (Paris: 1995)
Antoinette le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of. Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin (Paris: 2007), p.161-163, 161 (3rd Reduction), p.162 (4th Reduction).
Jacques de Caso and Patricia B. Sanders, Rodin’s Sculpture: A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection (San Francisco: 1977), pp. 149-153.
Jane Mayo Roos, Auguste Rodin (London: 2010), pp. 78-79, illust. nr. 110,111.
John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin: The Collection of the Rodin Museum Philadelphia (Pennsylvania: 1976), pp.90, 118
Michael F. Klinkenberg, ‘Anmerkung zur Dante-Rezeption Rodins’ in Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 69,4 (1999), pp. 527-533.
Wilfried Seipel, Auguste Rodin: Eros und Leidenschaft (Vienna: 1996), pp. 146-147.