"The Kiss" and the 1889 Exposition

Did you know that a version of Rodin’s The Kiss (1888-89, shown right) was slated to be shown in the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris? The marble sculpture wasn’t finished in time (largely due to the serious illness of an assistant), which I think is really unfortunate. The Eiffel Tower was also constructed for the exhibition that year, which obviously ended up being the highlight of the world fair event. I wonder how The Kiss would have been received by the public, in comparison to the popular Eiffel Tower. Would people at the fair have loved it as well? (And what would Gauguin have said about it? Ha ha!)

I like to think about why this sculpture might have been chosen for the 1889 exhibition. What is it about this sculpture that would have been perceived as typically “French?” Obviously not the literal subject matter, since it was inspired by Dante’s Inferno. Perhaps the passion and love embodied in the piece appealed to the French culture? I think it’s likely that this sculpture was selected for both its artistic nod towards Classicism, and also its blatant disregard for proportions and perfection. This sculpture is indeed modern and innovative in that sense, and it definitely would have communicated that idea of French modernity to those who visited the fair.

Why do you think that the French might have wanted this sculpture in the 1889 Exposition Universelle? Why do you like (or dislike – *gasp!*) this sculpture?

The Kiss is one of the featured works of art in “The Private Life of a Masterpiece” BBC series. The episode of The Kiss is quite interesting, since it gives background on the copy of the The Kiss that now belongs to the Tate Modern. I didn’t realize that the Tate sculpture had spent time being 1) hidden under a tarpaulin (due to its scandalous subject matter) and 2) stored in a carriage house and placed under bales of hay or straw! If you’re interested, you can win a copy of this episode by entering my giveaway to receive a free DVD set of “The Private Life of a Masterpiece” BBC series.

  • e says:

    I've seen this (not the original, but a casting) at the National Gallery of Art! I remember taking pictures of it, too! It's such an interesting piece and it had a lot of fun angles. I need to go through my pictures and see if I got any interesting shots.

    One thing that I think is cool about this statue is that their lips aren't touching — I love that the moment captured is before the kiss happens. I also love that the male is holding the book to which the couple fell in love reading. I think it is a great piece of art!

  • phin says:


    Here is a PDF link to an article with a rather funny comment on BYU's censorship of the sculptor that I thought you would enjoy. Scroll down a little bit and you will see the comic.

    ps. the article itself has nothing to do with your post.

  • ixoj says:

    I have seen the original, and t-rav nearly had to drag me away from it. I love it. I love how they're partially intertwined and passion that exudes from a chunk of cold rock. And how his hand presses into the flesh of her thigh. It's amazing.

  • Hels says:

    The French would have wanted any cutting edge architecture, textiles, porcelain, science, design etc in the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Who knew when they would be hosting a world fair again, so they had to grab the opportunities that were available to them. Anything to knock the thousands and thousands of visitors' socks off!

  • M says:

    I didn't realize that there was a casting at the NGA, e! That's fun. If you have any good photos, I'd love to see them.

    Phin, your link is really amusing. The BBC series actually discusses the BYU exhibition (and controversy) for about five minutes. It sure attracted a lot of attention (and still attracts attention, if BBC decided to select it for part of the episode).

    I love the hand-on-thigh too, ixoj. That's one of my favorite parts about the sculpture – it seems so real. And one gets a sense of movement and life in Paolo's hand.

    I'm glad to see that so many people like this sculpture. Like Hels mentioned, this work would have "knocked the socks off" of the visitors who came to the 1889 world fair. Too bad that Rodin never got a chance to showcase it at such an important event.

  • heidenkind says:

    I saw the casting for this sculpture at the NGA, too. It always reminds me of Canova's Cupid and Psyche. Perhaps it was considered modern and French because it tied France's love of Neoclassical sculptors like Canova with modernism through the use of "real" subjects (as opposed to the mythological Cupid and Psyche)?

  • Ashley says:

    I have always loved this sculpture, the lines are just SO beautiful. I'll never in my life forget the day we went to the Rodin Museum on our study abroad. Wasn't that so amazing? Took my breath away!

  • Char says:

    I also love this piece. Definitely the fact that the lips don't touch preserves the tension and anticipation of the kiss.

    But I also wonder if the fact that they are trapped in stone in the moment before fulfillment is a nod to the punishment of Paolo and Francesca? (If you're thinking in terms of Dante).

    And I just realized something. One of my favorite movies is The Bridges of Madison County (a story about adultery), and in it Meryl Streep plays a woman named Francesca! I'd never put that together before!

    I always felt bad for Paolo and Francesca.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.