This week, KAZoART breaks down the sculptural masterpiece The Kiss, by Auguste Rodin.This famous late-19th century sculptor left a lasting mark on the history of art and dared to break free from the conventions of the time. Although Rodin first had the idea for the piece in 1882, the marble sculpture we know today was not created until around 1898. We take a closer look at this iconic artwork, a symbol of passion and love…

A mythical sculpture

In around 1880, Rodin began working on his monumental work The Gates of Hell, depicting characters from Dante’s poem The Divine Comedy. The couple represented in The Kiss were originally elements on the gate commissioned for the future Museum of Decorative Arts. The scene was initially intended to feature on the bottom of the left door.

 The Kiss Auguste Rodin marble
The Kiss, Auguste Rodin, circa 1882, marble, © Musée Rodin

In 1886, however, Rodin realized the pair of lovers didn’t fit in with the representations of characters being tortured in hell and decided to remove them from the gate, instead giving them their own separate artwork. It was also at this time that he began a relationship with Camille Claudel, who worked with him on the sculpture, a development that undoubtedly influenced the final depiction, giving it added sensuality.

In 1888, the French State commissioned a full-size marble of the work. Before creating the marble version we know, Rodin therefore produced smaller versions in terracotta, plaster and bronze. It took the sculptor almost ten years to deliver the final artwork and to present it at the Paris Salon. Today, this version of The Kiss is on exhibition in Paris, at the Musée Rodin, in the sculptor’s former residence.

Five details in-depth

1# Who are the lovers?

Paolo and Francesca and The Kiss Rodin
The Kiss, detail, Rodin, © Musée Rodin – Paolo and Francesca, 1819, Ingres, © Musée d’Angers

Originally, the two lovers portrayed were Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini. These two fictional characters were taken from Italian poet Dante’s famous work The Divine Comedy (1472). In the story, Francesca, a married woman, falls in love with her husband’s brother Paolo.

The two adulterers meet a tragic end when they are killed by Francesca’s husband who surprises them kissing… The theme was explored by many great painters, including Ingres in the 19th century.

2# A shared love of literature

The Kiss Rodin with details
The Kiss, detail, Rodin, marble and terracotta, © Musée Rodin

In the Divine Comedy, we learn that Paolo and Francesca fall in love and share their first kiss while reading the story of Lancelot and Guinevere, another story of passionate love.

In Rodin’s The Kiss, if you look at the back of the sculpture, you can see that Paolo is still holding the book in his left hand. In the marble versions, the book is only just visible, only slightly hewn from the stone. In the first terracotta versions, however, the book was clearly visible…

3# The face of love

The Kiss Rodin with details
The Kiss, detail, Auguste Rodin, © Musée Rodin

When looking at The Kiss, it is difficult to clearly make out the lovers’ faces. They seem to shy away, interlaced and closed off from the outside world. The marble is imprecise and their features and faces, far from being personalized, are instead simple. The man and woman in the sculpture could be anyone…

Originally, Rodin entitled the work Francesca da Rimini. It was the art critics of the era who, after seeing the piece for the first time in 1887, suggested the name The Kiss – a more universal title anyone can identify with. The artwork became a symbol of love, rather than a story of fictional adultery…

4# Out-of-proportion hands and feet

The Kiss Rodin with details : feet and hands
Details of The Kiss, Rodin

At first glance, this detail might not immediately stand out. But if you look a little closer… the figures’ hands are out of proportion, as are the feet. The latter are far too long and almost the same size as the calves, which is anatomically impossible. The hands are also too large. This is particularly evident with Paolo’s right hand, which is placed on his beloved’s hip.

This is something unique to the works of Auguste Rodin, who worked on these parts of the body separately. The lack of proportion brings the characters power and strength. It is also the right hand that explains what is happening in the scene. At this point, Paolo has not yet touched Francesca, he has simply surprised her with a kiss.

5# The marble carving

The Kiss Rodin with pencil markings
Pencil markings, The Kiss by Rodin, details, plaster, Musée Rodin de Meudon

15 years after the Age of Bronze scandal, Rodin was again criticized for his approach to carving. In fact, Rodin did not carve the marble himself and instead entrusted this part of the sculpting process to specialist assistants, which aroused the anger of a number of art critics.

He produced only the terracotta and plaster versions, which were then transposed onto the stone using pencil and chalk marks. The first marble version commissioned by the French State in 1888 was therefore made by Jean Turcan.

Similar artists at KAZoART • Nicolas Neyman

At KAZoART, artist Nicolas Neyman takes on the theme of The Kiss and delivers a romantic portrait of a couple seized by feelings of love.

Nicolas Neyman