Rodin had intended to include this work in his monumental Gates of Hell, the high-relief sculptural doors that would be covered with figures from Dante’s Divine Comedy but he decided to remove the pair of lovers as he felt that it lacked the tragic mood the project required. Instead, he chose to exhibit the sculpture separately at the Galeries Georges Petit and the Exposition Générale des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, which ensured its success as one of Rodin’s signature works. The French government commissioned a marble version in 1888 and after the work was exhibited at the Paris Salon that same year to glowing reviews, the Barbedienne foundry cast bronze editions in four different sizes between 1898 and 1918, the largest being 71.4cm.
One of the most recognisable sculptures in the history of art, the work’s pertinence to Rodin’s contemporaries was immediate and its continued relevance in today’s visual culture has solidified the sculpture’s legacy. Le Baiser transcends preceding imagery, elevating the work to masterpiece status. The poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote so eloquently of the work in 1903: ‘The spell of the great group of the girl and the man that is named ‘The Kiss’ lies in this understanding distribution of life. In this group waves flow through the bodies, a shuddering ripple, a thrill of strength, and a presaging of beauty. This is the reason why one beholds everywhere on these bodies the ecstasy of this kiss. It is like a sun that rises and floods all with its light’ (Rainer Maria Rilke, Rodin, London, 1946, p. 26).
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