Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)
Property from the Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass
Auguste Rodin (1840-1917)

Le Baiser, 1ère réduction

Height: 27 7/8 in. (70.9 cm.)
Comte de Moët, France.
Fernand Ley, Paris.
Anon. sale, Parke Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 13 January 1966, lot 56.
Acquired at the above sale by the late owners.
G. Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1927, p. 47, nos. 91-92 (marble version illustrated).
G. Grappe, Le Musée Rodin, Paris, 1947, p. 142 (marble version illustrated, pl. 71).
C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1962, p. 49 (marble version illustrated).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 62 (larger version illustrated, p. 63; dated 1880-1882).
R. Descharnes and J.-F. Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Lausanne, 1967, p. 130 (marble version illustrated, p. 131).
I. Jianou and C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, p. 100 (detail of marble version illustrated, pl. 54; marble version illustrated, pl. 55).
C. Goldscheider, Rodin Sculptures, London, 1970, no. 49 (marble version illustrated).
J.L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, The Collection of the Rodin Museum, Philadephia, Philadelphia, 1976, pp. 72, 90 and 108, no. 151 (marble version illustrated, p. 77).
J. de Caso and P. Sanders, Rodin's Sculpture, A Critical Study of the Spreckels Collection, San Francisco, 1977, pp. 148-153, no. 22 (other casts illustrated, pp. 148 and 150).
R.M. Rilke, Rodin, Salt Lake City, 1982, pp. 38 and 104 (another cast illustrated, p. 39).
A.E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, 1985, pp. 78 and 80-81 (another cast illustrated, p. 79, fig. 70).
N. Barbier, Marbres de Rodin, Collection du Musée, Paris, 1987, pp. 184 and 258, no. 79 (marble version illustrated, pp. 185 and 187).
A. Le Normand-Romain, Le Baiser de Rodin, Paris, 1995, pp. 20-21 (another cast illustrated, fig. 2; plaster version illustrated, fig. 3).
A. Le Normand-Romain, Rodin, Paris, 1997, p. 49 (terracotta version illustrated, p. 48).
J. Vilain, Rodin at the Musée Rodin, London, 1997, p. 39 (marble version illustrated in color).
A. Pingeot, "Rodin au Musée du Luxembourg" in La Revue du Musée d'Orsay, Autumn 2000, pp. 67-70 and 74, no. 11.
R. Butler and S.G. Lindsay, European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2000, pp. 326 and 329-330 (copper version illustrated in color, pp. 327-328; plaster and marble versions illustrated, p. 329, figs. 1-2 respectively).
A.E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for the Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, pp. 214-215, no. 49 (another cast illustrated, fig. 167).
R. Masson and V. Mattiussi, Rodin, Paris, 2004, p. 40 (detail of marble version illustrated in color, p. 41).
A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, vol. I, p. 160 (other casts illustrated, pp. 158-161; marble version illustrated, p. 163, figs. 1-3).
A. Le Normand-Romain, Rodin, New York, 2014, pp. 133-134 (terracotta version illustrated in color, p. 132, fig. 121; marble version illustrated, p. 133, figs. 122-123 and marble version illustrated again in color, p. 135, fig. 127).
Fort Worth Art Center, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Perry R. Bass, February-March 1968.
The University of Arizona Art Museum, The Governor’s Conference on the Arts, March-April 1968.
Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, The Collection of Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass, March-May 2015, p. 62, no. 30 (illustrated in color, p. 63).


This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2017-5629B.

Le Baiser is one of the most iconic sculptures of Rodin’s entire oeuvre, renowned for its poetic depiction of two young lovers caught in a passionate embrace. Inspired by the tragic love story of Francesca and Paolo Malatesta of Dante’s Inferno, Rodin’s work dramatically portrays the intense desire that swept through these two figures, causing their bodies to intertwine in an almost spiral formation as they succumb to their lustful impulses. Through the energy of their expressive poses the sculptor imbues the work with a heightened sense of emotion, capturing a psychological complexity unparalleled in contemporary treatments of the theme.
Rodin’s depiction of the ill-fated lovers was originally conceived as part of his epic project La porte de l’enfer (The Gates of Hell), a monumental gateway commissioned by the French government for the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1880. Inspired by the events of Dante’s epic poem The Divine Comedy, Rodin envisioned a portal in the style of the great Renaissance masters, such as Ghiberti and Donatello, filled with bas-reliefs of scenes from the darkest portion of Dante’s tale—his explorations of the eight circles of hell, as detailed in The Inferno. Explaining his reasoning behind this choice, Rodin stated: “I had a great admiration for Dante. Dante is not only a visionary, but also a sculptor. His expression is lapidary in the good sense of the word...” (Rodin quoted in A.E. Elsen, Rodin, New York, 1963, p. 35). The sculptor enthusiastically threw himself into the task, creating a door over six meters in height, filled with a plethora of tormented figures whose vices have condemned them to the abyss. Le Baiser held a prominent place in early versions of the composition, occupying the lower left side of the vast door. However, by 1885 Rodin had decided that the palpable bliss of the sensually intertwined couple seemed incongruous with the cataclysmic events surrounding them, and removed the pair, developing the motif as an independent, free-standing sculpture instead.
The tale of Francesca and Paolo’s forbidden courtly love appeared in the fifth canto of The Inferno, and was a popular tale amongst nineteenth-century romantics. 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 these two lovers whose illicit affair was infamous throughout Italy in his own day. As they hover in the air before him, Francesca recounts the tale of their tragic affair to the poet, while Paolo weeps at her side. Francesca was unhappily wed to Gianciotto Malatesta, the lord of Rimini, in a political marriage intended to solidify an uneasy peace that had been struck between their two families. On one particular occasion when Gianciotto was called away from home, he left his young wife in the care of his brother Paolo. The pair grew close during his absence, but it was only while reading the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere together that their own passionate desire sparked within them. As Francesca explains: “Many times that reading drew our eyes together and changed the colour in our faces, but one point alone it was that mastered us; when we read that the longed-for smile was kissed by so great a lover, he who never shall be parted from me, all trembling, kissed my mouth...” (Dante, Inferno V, 127-38, quoted in A. Audeh “Rodin’s Gates of Hell: Sculptural Illustration of Dante’s Divine Comedy”, in Rodin: A Magnificent Obsession, London, 2001, p. 101). It was in this moment that the lovers were discovered by Gianciotto, who had returned from his journey earlier than expected. Enraged by their act of betrayal, he swiftly murdered the pair, condemning them to an eternity of torment.
In Le Baiser, Rodin captures the electric moment in which the lovers give into their desires, recording the instant their lips touch for the first time, sealing their fate. Presenting the figures in a distinctly sensual manner, Rodin chooses to leave their lithe bodies completely naked, eschewing the historical costumes and accoutrements that typically accompanied depictions of the couple. The only clue as to their identity lies in the suggestion of a small book beneath Paolo’s hand, discarded in the heat of the moment. In divesting them of the contextualizing trappings of the story, Rodin transforms the sculpture into a timeless expression of passionate love, universalizing the theme of two figures lost in the power of their emotions. While Paolo and Francesca are shown intertwined in a passionate embrace, the slight separation of their bodies implies that the artist has caught them in the split second before they become fully conjoined in the forceful press of their impassioned kiss. Although the theme of the embrace appears several times across Rodin’s oeuvre, Le Baiser is unparalleled in its description of the complexity of the emotions felt by Paolo and Francesca in this moment. While in Dante’s version of the tale Paolo initiates the kiss, here Rodin inverts this relationship and portraying Francesca as the more assertive and engaged role in the embrace. She appears to raise her body to Paolo, twisting her torso towards him as she reaches up and wraps her arms around his neck. In contrast, Paolo seems somewhat surprised by the kiss, his body remaining tense as Francesca pulls herself towards him. This tension creates the impression that Paolo is trying to restrain himself in some way, resisting the feelings of desire that are engulfing him. However, this taut energy is also used by Rodin to convey that his resolve is about to crumble—while Paolo’s right hand sits lightly on Francesca’s thigh, for example, his fingers exert just enough pressure to suggest that his grip is about to tighten, as he gives in fully to his passionate impulses.
Le Baiser was greatly admired amongst Rodin’s contemporaries for its vital, energetic modelling, which the artist claimed he owed to his studies of live models. The money provided by the French government for the commission of La porte de l’enfer had enabled the sculptor to hire a number of professional and non-professional models to work for him, allowing Rodin to observe directly the intimate details and energy contained in the figure as it adopted a myriad of poses. He was particularly interested in the way the body could express the internal, emotional landscape of a figure. As he explained: “I constantly note the association of their feelings and the line of their bodies, and by this observation I accustom myself to discover the expression of the soul, not only in their features of the face, but in the entire human form...” (Rodin quote in A.E. Elsen, The Gates of Hell by Auguste Rodin, Stanford, 1985, p. 80). It was this emotion, vitality, and inherent sense of life captured by Rodin in sculptures such as Le Baiser which led Antoine Bourdelle to proclaim: “There has never been, there will never be, a maître able to impose upon clay, upon bronze, upon marble the forms of tangible things with more profundity and intensity than Rodin” (Bourdelle, quoted in D. Rosenfeld, “Rodin’s Carved Sculpture,” in A.E. Elsen, ed., Rodin Rediscovered, Washington, 1981, p. 87).

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