When ’s The Kiss
was first displayed in the United States, at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, it was deemed unsuitable for public display. Anyone who wanted to view the piece had to submit an individual application.
Though it’s hard to imagine today, the bronze sculpture depicting the adulterous 13th-century Italian lovers Paolo and Francesca in an amorous embrace was so visceral and evocative that it was once deemed to be as controversial as a work like ’s My Bed
, the British artist’s 1998 Turner Prize-nominated installation, in which she displayed her unmade bed strewn with dirty tissues, sanitary pads, and condoms.
Rodin began The Kiss around 1883 as part of The Gates of Hell, a huge commission begun in 1880. Although the project was never completed, it would become Rodin’s most important work. The original concept was to illustrate the first of the three cantica forming Dante’s Divine Comedy, the 14th-century epic poem that Rodin adored and read again and again. At the time of the artist’s death in 1917, The Gates of Hell contained 180 individual sculptures, including many of his most famous works: The Thinker, the magnificently sensual Torse d’Adèle, and Eternal Spring.
For Rodin, The Gates became a sort of laboratory of the human condition in which he captured the physical manifestations of different states and emotions with his expressive modelling of clay and bronze work. But how, exactly, did he manage to create such heightened and absorbing representations of human experience?