Le Baiser (The Kiss), 4th reduction
Inscribed F. Barbedienne Fondeur
Bronze with a rich brown and green patination
Height 10" (25.2 cm)
Conceived 1886 and cast in July 1914. The Comité Rodin states that between 93 and 103 examples were cast from 1898 and 1918
Conceived in 1886. The Barbedienne foundry cast between ninety-three and one hundred and three casts of this model in this size between 1898 and 1918. This example was conceived in 1898 and cast on 31 July 1914. Rodin agreed a ten-year renewable contract for the Barbedienne foundry to produce an unlimited edition of the model in 1898. The foundry produced four sizes of this model, 72cm, 60cm, 40cm and 25cm.
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 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, nobles of Rimini, who shared their first kiss while reading about the Arthurian love story between Lancelot and Guinevere. This episode 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.
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 Kiss 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 to drape it and then to return the sculpture to its owner.
Unlike Britain and the United States, the sculpture was applauded in 1898 at the Salon de la Société National des Beaux-Arts in Paris. Its enthusiastic reception led the artist to sign a contract with the Barbedienne foundry, which allowed them to produce an 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. By means of archival research, the Comité Rodin certifies that this particular example was cast by the foundry on 31 July 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.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca da Rimini, 1855, TATE Britain
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1901-1904, TATE Britain