The Story Behind Rodin’s ‘The Kiss’

NOTE: If you are hav­ing prob­lems view­ing the video on our site, you can also watch it here.

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.

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