Paris, Salon des Indépendants, 1912, no. 496
Hamburg, Kunstverein, 1927, (possibly) no. 170
Paris, Galerie Pierre, 20th Century Sculpture & Constructions, 1936
New York, The Museum of Modern Art; Montclair Art Museum; Honolulu Academy of Arts; Poughkeepsie, Vassar College; Minneapolis, University of Minnesota; Cincinnati Modern Art Society; Saratoga Springs, Skidmore College, 20th Century Sculpture & Constructions, 1943
New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Summer Loan Exhibition, 1979
Tokyo, Galerie Tokoro, Constantin Brancusi: Sculpture, Dessin, Photographie, 1985
Tate Modern, London; Guggenheim Museum, New York, Constantin Brancusi: The essence of things, 2004, no. 2
One of the foremost sculptors of the twentieth century, Brancusi also became one of its most celebrated personalities. After walking to Paris from Romania in 1904 by way of Budapest, Vienna, Munich and Langres, he rapidly abandoned the academic style that he had perfected during his student years at the Bucharest Academy of Fine Arts and in 1907-8 carved the first version of The Kiss (see fig.1). This small but exquisitely carved limestone sculpture, less than one foot high and as crucial in the development of Brancusi’s oeuvre as Les demoiselles d’Avignon was for Picasso, was to generate a series of works that continued for five decades. The work under discussion, the second version of the theme and the only one still remaining in private hands, is markedly different in style from the sculpture in the Muzeul de Arta, Craiova.
“With the carving of The Kiss,” Sidney Geist has written, “Brancusi, by a supreme effort of will, intelligence and imagination, leaps out of his past. Nothing, or very little in his earlier work prepares us for its special poetry, its unobtrusive, densely packed invention. Placed against everything that precedes it, The Kiss gives the impression of issuing from a new hand; one writer has written that it ‘seemed to arrive from nowhere’” (Sidney Geist, Brancusi/The Kiss, 1978, p. 1).
The theme of the kiss, the fusion of souls, had been a major source of inspiration to Symbolist artists throughout Europe. Passionate kisses can be found in the work of Peter Behrens, Edvard Munch (see fig. 2), and, above all, in the celebrated painting by Gustav Klimt (see fig. 3). Most pertinent to Brancusi, however, was the over-life-size marble version by Auguste Rodin whose lovers first saw the light of day in The Gates of Hell. (see fig. 4). Brancusi, who had worked in Rodin’s studio from March to April in 1907, rapidly came to the conclusion that “nothing grows under big trees” (one of the first of his aphorisms to be widely circulated). He developed an antipathy for what he was later to call “beefsteak” in sculpture, the naturalistic treatment of the softness of flesh in an unyielding material.
At the time that he was absorbing this wealth of material, overwhelming no doubt for a young man whose formative years had been spent in Romania, Brancusi was also discovering that the sculpture he had known so far, the naturalistic Western tradition, was only the tip of the iceberg. As Margit Rowell has observed: “The importance of the discovery of so-called primitive art (and of African sculpture in particular) between 1906 and 1908 is by now universally acknowledged. The impact of archaic art- ancient Iberian, Assyrian, Egyptian, and East Asian – has attracted less attention; nevertheless, these art forms, as discovered in the collections of the Musée du Louvre, the Musée Guimet, the Musée Cernuschi, and the Musée Indochine du Trocadero, exerted a crucial influence on many artists working in Paris, particularly on Brancusi. …Brancusi is known to have been a frequent visitor to all these museums. Although these visits can be documented only as far back as 1908, some authors trace them back to 1905, and it seems likely that they began as soon as he arrived in Paris in 1904. However, it was not until 1907, when Brancusi’s academic career came to an end and he parted from Rodin, that exotic and archaic influences began to be visible in works such as The Kiss and Wisdom of the Earth” (Margit Rowell, “Brancusi: Timelessness in a Modern Mode,” in Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (exhibition catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995, p. 41).
Among the pioneers who first explored the broad range of materials on view in the museums of Paris was André Derain, whose Crouching Figure, 1907 (see fig. 5) has many characteristics in common with Brancusi’s The Kiss. Both are carved in limestone and are small, compact block-like forms. For both artists, the decision to reject the academic approach and to carve directly in stone resulted in works that bear a strong resemblance to archaic sculpture. Derain, however, was primarily a painter, and his remarkable sculptures of this period have been described as the work of “a gifted amateur – a painter trying his hand at a different medium” (Alexandra Parigoris, “The road to Damascus,” in Constantin Brancusi The essence of things (exhibition catalogue), Guggenheim Museum, 2004, p.51). Derain did not continue in this mode, whereas for Brancusi, The Kiss was only the beginning of a long career devoted to the investigation of direct carving and its relationship to other modes of sculptural expression.
The first version of the sculpture (see fig. 1) was given to a Romanian acquaintance, Victor N. Popp, by Brancusi in 1910 and consequently disappeared from view. As described by Ann Temkin, this is “the first stone version of the motif that came to be a signature for Brancusi, literally drawn on his calling cards and reinvented during each of the five decades of his career” (Constantin Brancusi 1876-1957 (exhibition catalogue), Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1995, p. 90) Almost immediately, Brancusi began to work on two stone variants, the version under discussion and the full length sculpture in Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, erected on the grave of a young Russian woman, Tatiana Rachewskaia, who had committed suicide over an unhappy love affair (see fig. 6). As was to be the case whenever Brancusi returned to the motif in years to come, the second and third versions show widely different stylistic approaches.
Sidney Geist refers to the Diamond Kiss “in gray limestone that looks as though wrenched from the material. Chisel strokes are present in regions other than the hair; large areas of the coarse surface appear to have been worked by some unorthodox tool, possibly a sharp stone...In bringing a coarseness of facture and material to the second Kiss while maintaining the size and design of the first, Brancusi seems to be repeating the motif in a more obviously direct manner, manipulating the surface with typical Fauve frankness. The initial warmth and subtlety of The Kiss are dispelled in the brusque new version, a fact emphasized by the great expressive distance between the broad facades …..The bold handling of the second Kiss is accompanied by a further schematization of the design. If the work creates an impression of great immediacy, in fact of speed, that is because it had only to be executed – not invented” (Sidney Geist, Brancusi/The Kiss, 1978, pp. 47-48)
As already indicated, the intimate image of an embracing couple was to become one of Brancusi’s most enduring themes. He returned to it in 1916 when John Quinn commissioned a stone version of the plaster he had seen in the collection of Walter Pach (see fig. 7), in 1919, 1923-25 (see fig. 8) and finally in a highly stylized version (see fig. 9) that relates to Brancusi’s ongoing investigation into the architectural treatment of the theme that commenced with Column of the Kiss and culminated in Gate of the Kiss in the great sculptural ensemble at Tirgu-Jiu, Romania (see fig. 10).
Fig. 1, Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1907- 8, stone, Muzeul de Arta, Craiova
Fig. 2, Edvard Munch, The Kiss, 1892, oil on canvas, Oslo Kommunes Kunstsammlinger
Fig. 3, Gustav Klimt, The Kiss, 1907-8, oil on canvas, Osterreichische Galerie, Vienna
Fig. 4, Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1901-4, marble, Tate Modern, London
Fig. 5, André Derain, Crouching Figure, 1907, stone, Museum Moderner Kunst, Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna
Fig. 6, Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1909-10, stone, Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris
Fig. 7, Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1916, limestone, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950
Fig. 8, Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1923-25, stone, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Fig. 9, Constantin Brancusi, The Kiss, 1922-40, stone, Musée nationale d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris
Fig. 10, Constantin Brancusi, Gate of the Kiss, Tirgu Jiu,
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