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With Valentine’s Day almost here, we thought it would be an opportune time to bring you the story of Auguste Rodin’s erotically charged masterpiece, The Kiss.
In this video from the Tate museums, Jane Burton explains how The Kiss was originally conceived as a detail in an early version of Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, a monumental work that preoccupied the artist for the last 37 years of his life. The Kiss depicts the fateful embrace of Francesca and Paolo, adulterous lovers from Dante’s Inferno.
Rodin developed the theme of The Kiss in plaster and terracotta before creating a marble version for the French government in 1888. That piece is now on display at the Musée Rodin in Paris. The version featured in the video was commissioned in 1900 by an American art collector living in England, and is now part of the permanent collection of the Tate Modern in London. It’s currently on loan (through September 2) to the Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent.
The nudity and frank sensuality of The Kiss drew scorn from many critics when the sculpture was first unveiled in 1889. The poet Paul Claudel, a religious conservative, wrote:
the man is so to speak attablé [sitting down to dine] at the woman. He is sitting down in order to make the most of his opportunity. He uses both his hands, and she does her best, as the Americans say, to “deliver the goods.”
Claudel’s contempt probably had something to do with the fact that his sister, the sculptor Camille Claudel, was Rodin’s lover at the time the work was completed. For a more in-depth exploration of the fascinating story behind The Kiss, be sure to watch the BBC series, Private Life of a Masterpiece. The episode featuring The Kiss can be seen online in four 12-minute segments here.