This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité de Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2000-155B.
Love and sexuality were central themes in Rodin's work; he was unrivaled among 19th century sculptors at communicating the drama of passion and romance. The study of love had dominated the arts and literature since classical times; interest in this subject, especially in the tragic fate that so often beset young love in its most intense expression, surged in the heyday of Romanticism during the early 1800s, and continued unabated to Rodin's day.
A tale of forbidden courtly love in Canto V of Dante's Inferno inspired the embracing pair depicted in Le Baiser. Having entered the second circle of hell, where an unrelenting whirlwind torments the spirits of those who have committed sins of the flesh, Dante encounters two illicit lovers who lived and perished for their indiscretion in the poet's own day. Francesca was married to Gianciotto Malatesta, the lord of Rimini. During an absence from his domain, Gianciotto placed Francesca in the safekeeping of his younger brother Paolo. While reading the story of the adulterous love between Guinevere and Lancelot, Paolo and Francesca suddenly became aware of their feelings for each other.
While in Dante's telling, Paolo initiated the kiss, Rodin has Francesca raise her body to him, inviting his embrace. Paolo appears to react timidly: in his surprise, the book slips from his hand, still opened to the page they were reading, now flattened in the embrace of body and limb. Rodin captured the instant in which their lips are barely touching, a split second before they actually join in the forceful press of an impassioned kiss. The tragic outcome of this encounter would have been well-known to Dante's readers and informed viewers in Rodin's day--Gianciotto unexpectedly returned, and learning of the conjoined infidelities of both his wife and brother, he slew them.
The embracing lovers first made their appearance in Rodin's third terracotta maquette for La porte de l'Enfer, where they feature prominently on the lower left side. Rodin considered the group to be too blissful to fit within the cataclysmic drama of the Gates, and it did not appear in the sculptor's final version. Rodin subsequently developed the lovers into an independent, free-standing sculpture. To universalize his theme, the sculptor modeled his figures in the nude, and seated them on a rocky ledge.
Rodin made two plaster versions in the 34 inch (86.3 cm.) size by 1887. The first served as the model for the bronzes made by the Rudier family founders down through the years, and is known as the Rudier version. The second was exhibited in the Brussels Salon of 1887, and is sometimes referred to as the Milwaukee version, as it has resided in the collection of the Milwaukee Art Museum since 1966. The present cast is one of five bronze casts made from the Milwaukee plaster between 1887 and 1901, placing them among the earliest known casts done during Rodin's lifetime. These bronzes possess a distinctive feature not seen in the Rudier casts or any other version of Le Baiser. As a result of shrinkage during the production of the clay model from which the Milwaukee plaster was made, Paolo's right hand lifted from the thigh of Francesca, so that here it appears to hover tentatively, before he lowers it to grasp her leg. Rodin relished the poignancy of this suspended gesture, and that it occurred by accident. He commented to Vita Sackville-West, "the man's hand was not resting on the woman's leg this was more respectful" (quoted in F.V. Grunfeld, The Journals of Vita Sackville-West, Paris, 1988, p. 212).
Le Baiser, moyen modèle dit "Taille de la Porte" (modèle avec base simplifiée)
PROPERTY OF A PRIVATE NEW YORK COLLECTOR
Signed 'Rodin' (on the back of the base)
Auguste Rodin , 19th Century, Sculptures, Statues & Figures, bronze, France, Modern, figures
IMPRESSIONIST & MODERN ART
Height: 34 in. (86.4 cm.)
G. Grappe, Catalogue de Musée Rodin, Paris 1944, p. 58, no. 166 (marble version illustrated).
C. Goldscheider, Rodin, sa vie, son oeuvre, son héritage, Paris 1962, p. 49 (marble version illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 62 (another cast illustrated, p. 63).
B. Champigneulle, Rodin, London, 1967, pp. 162-163, nos. 78-79 (marble version illustrated).
R. Descharnes and J.-F. Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Lausanne, 1967, p. 131 (marble version illustrated in color).
I. Jianou and C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, p. 100 (marble version illustrated, pls. 54-55).
J.L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 72, 90 and 108 (marble version illustrated, p. 77).
J. de Caso and P.B. Sanders, Rodin's Sculpture, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 149-152 (another cast illustrated, p. 148).
F.V. Grunfeld, Rodin, A Biography, New York, 1987, pp. 187 ff.
R. Masson and V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 40 (marble version illustrated in color, p. 41; terracotta version illustrated in color, p. 42).
A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin: Catalogue of the Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. 1, pp. 159-160, no. S.472 (another cast illustrated, p. 158; another cast illustrated again in color, p. 159).
Geraldine Rockefeller Dodge; sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, New York, 22 October 1975, lot 107.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.