AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917) Le Baiser, 4ème réduction ou petit modèle  9 7/8 in (25.8 cm) (height) (Conceived in 1886 and cast in 1945)

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Lot 8
Le Baiser, 4ème réduction ou petit modèle 9 7/8 in (25.8 cm) (height)

Sold for US$ 350,075 inc. premium

Impressionist & Modern Art

12 Nov 2019, 17:00 EST

New York

AUGUSTE RODIN (1840-1917)
Le Baiser, 4ème réduction ou petit modèle
inscribed 'Rodin' (on the back) and stamped 'A. Rodin' (on the underside)
9 7/8 in (25.8 cm) (height)
Conceived in 1886 and cast in 1945


  • This work will be included in the forthcoming Catalogue Critique de l'Oeuvre Sculptee d'Auguste Rodin currently in preparation by the Galerie Brame & Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive number 2018-5846B.

    Musée Rodin, Paris.
    Edmond Guérin & Cie, Paris (acquired from the above in May 1948).
    M.E.H. Meyer, Paris (acquired from the above in May 1948).
    Private collection, France.
    Galerie Aittouarès, Paris (acquired by 1993).
    Elizabeth Mayer Fine Art, New York.
    Acquired from the above in 1995.

    I. Jianou & C. Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, pls. 54-55 (illustration of the marble version).
    N. Barbier, Marbres de Rodin: Collection du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1987, no. 79 (illustration of the marble version p. 185).
    K. Varnedoe, A Magnificent Obsession, London, 2001, pl. 83 (illustration of a larger cast n.p).
    A. Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of works in the Musée Rodin, Paris, 2007, no. S. 2393 (illustration of another cast with incorrect measurements p. 162).

    Considered one of Rodin's most renowned and timeless works, Le Baiser is one of the most significant representations of all-consuming and undying love. Two lovers wrapped in an erotic embrace, Rodin reinterprets the classical subject matter of forbidden love in an unprecedented three-dimensional visualization. A scene of vitality and dynamism, the distinctive and expressive Le Baiser embodies Rodin's radical approach to sculpture that is unparalleled in Western art. Conceived in 1886 and cast circa 1904, the sculpture at present was cast in bronze by the Alexis Rudier Foundry in 1945 in an edition of 21.

    Le Baiser originated from the monumental sculptural project The Gates of Hell. In 1880, the French government commissioned Rodin to create a pair of bronze doors for a new national museum of decorative arts in Paris. While the museum never came to materialization and the doors were never officially completed, the project spanned Rodin's artistic career until the end of his life, sparking a feverish and powerful force of creativity within the artist. The Gates of Hell consisted of over two hundred human figures and groups inspired by Dante's La Divina Commedia. Some of Rodin's most famous works, including Le Penseur, Les Trois Ombres, and Le Baiser were conceived as figures for the gates. Modeled in the round and attached to plaster panels within the portal's frames, the works were later removed by Rodin and cast as independent, free-standing pieces.

    The present work was inspired by Canto V of Dante's Inferno. The story is one of heady emotion—an illicit affair between Francesca da Rimini and her husband's brother, Paolo Malatesta. Francesca, a young woman from Ravenna, Italy, was married Gianciotto Malatesta, Lord of Rimini in 1275. After reading the story of the adulterous love between Guinevere and Lancelot from Knights of the Round Table, Francesca and Paolo realized their love for each other and begin an affair of their own. Rodin captures the dramatic instant right before the passionate kiss in which their lips barely touch. After having discovered the affair, Gianciotto stabbed Paolo and Francesca to death, condemning them to spend an eternity in hell locked in this timeless embrace.

    While in Dante's story it is Paolo who initiates the kiss, Rodin has changed the narrative in his sculptural depiction. Raising Francesca's body so that it lifts upwards towards Paolo, her right leg crossed over Paolo's left leg, and her arm reaching around Paolo's head, Rodin creates a scene of dynamic and sensual embrace. Caught in surprise, Paolo's body language appears timid, with three fingers cautiously resting on Francesca's left thigh and the book they were reading slipping from his hand. Rodin re-creates the erotically charged moment of Paolo and Francesca's realized desire: an instant before their lips meet as their bodies melt into one another. Francesca describes the powerful moment to Dante as he travels through the fifth circle of hell:

    "One day we two were reading for delight
    about how love had mastered Lancelot;
    we were alone and innocent and felt

    No cause to fear. And as we read, at times
    we went pale, as we caught each other's glance,
    but we were conquered by one point alone.

    For when we read that the much-longed-for smile
    accepted such a gentle lover's kiss,
    this man, whom nothing will divide from me,

    Trembled to place his lips upon my mouth.
    A pander was that author, and his book!
    That day we did not read another page."
    (Dante, The Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto V, 127-38)

    Rodin had initially placed Le Baiser in a prominent position on the lower left door of the gates. However, he removed the sculpture from the doors in 1886, feeling it was too blissful of a scene and lacked the tragic mood that aligned with his attempt to create a scene of Hell. An image of Paolo and Francesca remained on the doors, but Rodin chose to depict them in the form of two floating spirits, representative of an illicit love condemned to an eternal tragic fate.

    Rodin transformed the sculptural figure of Le Baiser from The Gates of Hell to create a bronze version that was exhibited at the Galerie Georges Petit in Paris in 1887, and later that year Rodin exhibited a life-size version in painted plaster in Brussels. Later that year Rodin was elected to the Legion d'Honneur, and the French government commissioned Rodin to create a larger-than-life marble version of the work, which was then exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1898. Rodin had entered a creative burst, as a journalist visiting his studio in 1889 described the scene: "I remember a time when the walls, the floor of the studio, the turntables and the furniture were littered with small female nudes in the contorted poses of passion and despair... With the rapidity of spontaneous creation, a countless host of damned women came into being and writhed in his fingers. Some of them lived for a few hours before being returned to the mass of reworked clay," (quoted in Rodin. Sculptures and Drawing (exhibition catalogue), Hayward Gallery, London, 1986-87, p. 80).

    The subject matter of forbidden love has been interpreted various ways throughout history. The theme was especially favored throughout the 19th century, explored by artists such as Eugène Delacroix, Alexandre Cabanel, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres. It was Rodin's erotic and sensual depiction of the lovers, in the medium of sculpture, with fluid and smooth lines intended for a dynamic view in the round, that made Rodin's rendering of the subject unprecedented and an immediate and lasting success. With its reminiscence of courtly love, the story of Paolo and Francesca had a significant impact on Rodin's contemporaries. As the poet and secretary to Rodin, Rainer Maria Rilke described the motif 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" (R. Maria Rilke, Rodin, London, 1946, p. 26).

    The sensuality and immediacy of the current work reaffirms Rodin's unique technical skill to create a perpetual and enduring motif of passionate love. The abstract title of the sculpture—The Kiss—detaches itself from contextualization and establishes a universality. The first time the work was exhibited in Paris critics admired the vague ambiance of the title, as Lucien Solvay remarked: "this adorable group of lovers, as naked as the day they were born, that should simply have been called The Kiss or nothing at all" (L. Solvay, "Le Salon," in La Nation, no. 270, September 1887). The universality of this image is reinforced through the couple's complete nudity. Renounced of any historical costume, the fallen book beneath Paolo's hand is the only contextual signifier Rodin provides about their identity. The dynamism of the couple's bodies, as their forms melt into each other in a passionate and twisted embrace, demonstrates Rodin's adept ability to enrich his sculptural creations with undeniable palpable energy. Rodin explained this life-like energy within his sculptures: "it is basically a metamorphosis of this kind that the painter or sculptor executes in making his personages move. He makes visible the passage of one pose into the other; he indicates how imperceptibly the first glides into the second. In his work, one still detects a part of what was while discovers in part what will be" (Rodin quoted in Art: Conversations with Paul Gsell, Berkeley, 1984, p. 29). The radiating desire, immediacy, and sensuality seen in Le Baiser has made the sculpture at present a universal and timeless visualization of forbidden love.
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