The Art of The Kiss: How Auguste Rodin, Pablo Picasso and Others Did It

Updated on May 10, 2018
Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank changed her college major from English to Art History after taking one introductory class.

A personal exchange of feelings between two individuals, the kiss can be a polite greeting, a sign of respect, an expression of caring concern. It can also be a display of sensual love, or sometimes even a sign of deceitful betrayal. In short, a kiss can convey many messages and have many levels of emotion.

Ancient art has few depictions of the kiss. The act is after all often a private matter, a moment of personal, mutually shared emotion. By the 1800's artists were starting to explore the subject more openly. Below are some of the best kisses in art by various artists.

Cannova's "Cupid and Psyche"

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In this famous sculpture Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, was jealous of a princess worshiped by the people for her beauty. To change this situation the goddess asked her son Cupid to make the girl fall in love with a horrid monster.

The story reminds us of other tales such as Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. It has its ups and downs, but love finally prevails and everyone lives happily ever after since Princess Psyche gets to be a goddess, too.

The creator of this sculpture, Antonio Cannova (1757-1822), was an Italian sculptor who won wide acclaim for his funerary and mythological sculptures. He also lent his neoclassical style to portrait sculptures, including famous ones of people like Napoleon and George Washington.

He often made copies of his most successful works. There are at least two more copies of this kiss, which is said to have revived Psyche after one of her misfortunes.

Rodin's "Kiss"

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Auguste Rodin's naturalistic style was considered quite shocking and crude when it was first put on public display.

The nude figure had long been an admired and accepted art form. Greek gods and goddesses had often been shown in all their unclothed and idealized glory.

Renaissance sculptors and painters also depicted many nudes. Even conservative Victorians could accept the classic-style works as being "artistic". But Rodin's figures were not just nude. They were naked.

They were not like the allegorical, romanticized sculpture of classical times. They were not gods offering a lesson about morality. They looked more like ordinary people, neighbors and co-workers -- but without their clothes. People were shocked and outraged.


His rendition of "The Kiss" was both tender and sensitive, quite inoffensive to modern eyes, but to Rodin's contemporary audience it spoke too much of an underlying sensuality . . . even sexuality, that had no apparent redeeming social value. It wasn't related to a philosophical idea or a well known story like the statue of Psyche and Cupid, even though they were almost just as naked.

Originally a similar bronze sculpture by Rodin was meant to represent an unfaithful wife from Dante's Inferno for a larger sculptural group of the "Gates of Hell". A 29 inch bronze version was displayed at the The World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in1893 in a secluded spot with limited access since it was considered unsuitable for general public display.

Brancusi's "Kiss"

Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957) was a Romanian modernist sculptor whose simplified forms defied centuries of sculptural tradition with his simple but elegant figures.

His work has the straightforward feeling of folk art which may derive from his peasant background, even though he did have formal classical training and excelled in that area.

His philosophy of expressing "the idea, the essence of things" drove his artistic conceptions. He sought the basic simple form and had an appreciation of primitive sculpture.

He was also acquainted with many well known arts of his era and he even entered the workshop of Aguste Rodin, whom he admired greatly.

Ever independent, he did not stay with Rodin long because he felt he was being influenced too much and wanted to grow his own style. His "The Kiss" gives us only the full frontal contact essentials.

Giotto's "Kiss of Judas"

The kiss of death.
The kiss of death. | Source

Giotto de Bondone (1266/76--1337) painted scenes that were startlingly realistic for his time. His intuitive use of spatial perspective, and overlapping figures anticipated the Renaissance systems which gave the realistic illusion of depth to a painted work. In Giotto's work we begin to see individual facial expressions and poses. This was a break from the strict iconic traditions of earlier religious art.

His "Kiss of Judas" representing the betrayal of Christ is unusual in its composition because the expansive golden cloak of Judas almost completely covers the figure of the Savior, as if to hide the despicable act.

The soldier in red, to the left of Jesus is so intent on the scene, that he seems not to notice a disciple cutting off his ear.

Hayez's "The Kiss"

Francesco Hayez -- "The Kiss"
Francesco Hayez -- "The Kiss" | Source

Franceso Hayez 1791-1882 was a prolific and popular Italian portait painter who also did historical and allegorical subjects.

He had a particular talent for capturing the look and "feel" of rich fabrics which may have been a point in his favor to gain so many wealthy patrons who wished to have themselves portrayed wearing their finest clothing.

His kiss painting done about 1859 shows a couple stealing a moment of passion in a secluded corner of a grand building. The man, wearing a traveling cloak and cap is merely a background for the graceful female figure.


The woman wears a spectacular satin dress which practically glows from within. Every tiny fold and crease of the gown changes the light and makes the garment shimmer like a faceted jewel.

Fragonard's "The Stolen Kiss"

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Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) was a French painter who worked in several styles, but was most popular for his romantic and whimsical subjects that were popular with aristocrats of the time.

His work appealed to those who favored the frivolous, fashionable and flirty subjects, decorated with flowers and lace.

Soft colors of flesh and fabric spoke to the self-indulgent and pleasure-seeking upper classes in the days before the revolution and his "kissing bandit" captures the playful audacity of Rococo style.

Cezanne's "The Kiss of the Muse"

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Considered one of the founding fathers of the impressionist movement, Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) constantly experimented with light, color and movement in his paintings.

This "Kiss of the Muse" sometimes called "The Dream of the Poet", is one of his early works created before he developed the loose and "constructive" groupings of brushstrokes which characterize his more famous works.

It has a strange and somewhat disturbing quality, (perhaps because it looks as if the poet has expired) which makes us glad he moved on from this style.

Edvard Munch's "The Kiss by the Window"

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Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) is best known for "The Scream", but he painted several other works with intense emotional overtones.

His version of "The Kiss by the Window" depicts two lovers who are so much into each other that their faces dissolve into one indistinguishable mass.

The original sketch for the work shows the lovers unclothed, and he finished more than one version.

In this one, they seem slightly off balance, but they anchor one another in their passionate unity. Though we cannot discern their expressions, we can recognize their undeniable commitment to the moment.

Cassat's "Maternal Kiss"

Only a mother can kiss away the tears.
Only a mother can kiss away the tears. | Source

Mary Stevenson Cassat (1844-1926), was an American artist who closely associated with Edgar Degas and other impressionists.

She came from a wealthy family who did not think much of her desire to become a serious artist. At the time, it was perfectly acceptable for cultivated women to paint pictures, but not to make a career of it.

Her teachers and fellow art students, immersed in strict academic tradition of the era, didn't take her seriously either, simply because she was female. She decided to study on her own.

Going through a long period of trying various subjects, styles and strategies, she finally attained some recognition in her later life for her work in the subject area of "mother and child".

It was a theme she approached with great sensitivity, while avoiding the overly-sweet sentimentality that is sometimes associated with the genre.

She often depicts the quiet moments such as this "Maternal Kiss" which reassures a beautiful child who may have experienced a childlike episode of distress.

Picasso's "The Kiss"

Pablo Picasso did many cubist interpretations of "The Kiss." One of them, painted a day before his 88th birthday, was sold for 15.5 million dollars in a 2008 Sotheby's auction in New York.

The version shown here (1969) is slightly different than the large one done in shades of black and white. Some people may say "a kiss is just as kiss", but the auctioned painting, said to represent the artist and his wife Jacqueline, sold for almost seventeen and a half million total, with the buyer's premium. The proceeds of the sale benefited the Nasher Sculpture Center.

More Kisses From the World of Art

Subject in artistic renditions, the kiss can be tender, playful, powerful or lustful. But every kiss has it's own story and sends a message that is given and received with different levels of meaning.

Do you have a favorite "kiss?"

Questions & Answers

    © 2009 Rochelle Frank

    Comments

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      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        4 months ago from California Gold Country

        Thank you, Erica. Since I was familiar with many of these from art history classes, it was pretty easy to pull together.

      • PrekTeacher profile image

        Erica 

        4 months ago from Michigan

        Hmm, this is very interesting! I like it! I am not very familiar with different pieces of artwork, so it's nice how you have all of this compile together. I especially like the one with story of Venus in it. Very well-done!

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        6 months ago from California Gold Country

        Glad you liked it. I was a fun one to write.

      • RedElf profile image

        RedElf 

        6 months ago from Canada

        Great article - awesome video. Thanks for this!

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        10 months ago from Houston, Texas

        I liked several of these portrayals of art. For sentimentality I liked Mary Cassat's "Maternal Kiss" best. The sculptures were beautiful even if sculpted unclothed or nearly so. The satin on the dress painted by Francesco Hayez is amazing! Interesting subject!

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        4 years ago from California Gold Country

        Thank you for commenting, amiebutchko. I enjoyed doing this hub and am glad that many people found it interesting.

      • amiebutchko profile image

        Amie Butchko 

        4 years ago from Warwick, NY

        What an interesting and compelling topic, Rochelle... the kiss! You are right - it has appeared so often in art history and can express so many different types of loves and betrayals; all ageless and relatable. I especially love the painting of Judas and Jesus as well as the mother and child kiss and the sublime emotion it conveys. Definitely worthy of pondering - thank you for this journey through such a thought provoking subject. You brought new light to old masterpieces for me this morning!

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        5 years ago from California Gold Country

        Thanks for your comment, idigwebsites. I think a lot of women pick that as a favorite. We understand the importance of that kiss.

      • idigwebsites profile image

        idigwebsites 

        5 years ago from United States

        Aaawwww... I like the maternal kiss. I'm not a mom yet, but it reminds me of myself kissing my baby niece's wet cheeks as she was crying. Thanks for sharing your article. Up, etc., and sharing. :)

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        5 years ago from California Gold Country

        After its initial rejection by the public (it was still the Victorian era) , Rodin's work-- especially this one-- has become very popular and iconic over the years.

      • MissJamieD profile image

        MissJamieD 

        5 years ago from Minnes-O-ta

        I personally love Rodin's kiss. I must be honest I know very little about the truth behind art. I love to look at an artists work. I'm not educated on the artists themselves or their pieces and the mediums used, but I really enjoy art on the eyes. I enjoy Rodin's kiss because it seems normal and sensual. I'm sure we've all been in similar poses at least once in our lives. At least I'm hoping that most of us have experienced real sensuality and happiness, even for a moment, with someone we are attracted to. To me, it looks like the couple in the statue are probably in love. Their body language, where his hand is placed on her hip. Like I said, I'm not an expert, but I love this statue, it's beautiful.

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        8 years ago from California Gold Country

        No problem. I appreciate the link. "Besos."

      • Elena. profile image

        Elena. 

        8 years ago from Madrid

        Hi Rochelle! I finally got around to linking you, sorry about the tremendous delay, but better late than never, they do say!

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        8 years ago from California Gold Country

        Thanks, Elena. The various interpretations are very diverse, aren't they. I added a link to your hub. Thanks for the lovely comment.

      • Elena. profile image

        Elena. 

        8 years ago from Madrid

        Rochelle, here I am! I ought to link this one to mine, too, indeed! They are very pretty sister hubs! You could see in mine that I favor Rodin, but I have to say I've a very (VERY!) special place in my heart for "The Stolen Kiss". Kudos to this one!

      • fiona_33 profile image

        fiona_33 

        8 years ago from UK

        Terrifc hub with wonderful pictures. There are few things as beautiful as a kiss.

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        9 years ago from California Gold Country

        Classical nude sculptures have been around for a long time.

        I think one of the differences-- like Rodin-- he was not telling an allegorical story or representing a philosophical ideal. I mean who would look at nude people unless it represented some noble ideal or taught us something about high ideals? 

        I am sure there are also some nude kissers in painting, as well, but that is an interesting observation.

      • shibashake profile image

        shibashake 

        9 years ago

        What an information rich hub Rochelle. I thought it was interesting that originally it was acceptable to depict Gods in the nude, but not regular people.

        Is that because regular people are seen as less perfect and therefore unworthy of such depiction? Or perhaps that people were embarrassed by their own sexuality and it was only acceptable when depicted by something other than themselves?

        I also found it interesting that all the sculptures depict figures in the nude, whereas the paintings do not.

      • Melody Lagrimas profile image

        Melody Lagrimas 

        9 years ago from Philippines

        Very interesting. I love Fragonard's stolen kiss as well as Cassat's maternal kiss.

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        9 years ago from California Gold Country

        Thank you Chuck. I figure it was time to use a little of something I learned as an Art History major-- but I realize there is soooo much I don't know, barely scratched the surface with what I learned in school.

        I appreciate your comment, Shirley. The one thing I learned in art history classes was that it covers "everything". It was good background for an elementary teacher because it  involves, history, culture, science, politics, geography, education etc etc. Art reflects everything that goes on in society and reflects people's thoughts about all of it.

         

      • Shirley Anderson profile image

        Shirley Anderson 

        9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        I'm not much of an art person, so don't feel like I can make an intelligent contribution that way but you've educated me some, Rochelle.

        I can never tell what parts of a Picasso are doing what! They're a tad fragmented. I'd like a muse to give me a creative kiss on the forehead, though.

        Thanks for exposing me to some culture, Rochelle!

      • Chuck profile image

        Chuck Nugent 

        9 years ago from Tucson, Arizona

        Wonderful pictures of both the paintings and the sculptures. You obviously know your art and did a great job of presenting and describing it. I had seen a a few of these pictures in gallaries but I will now look at them in an entirely new light.

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        9 years ago from California Gold Country

        Shades breath-- good to see you. I don't know what makes you twisted. I have wondered.

        The Judas one might be the 'kiss of death'.

      • Shadesbreath profile image

        Shadesbreath 

        9 years ago from California

        A fine treatment here, Rochelle, and you have some of my favorites up there. I am a HUGE fan of Rodin and I love Fragonard too. Gonna have to look into Hayez, that tiny image up there has potential to open up a whole bunch of great stuff. Nice work. I kept waiting for the Kiss of Death section though. Does that make me twisted? lol. Much got close, I suppose. :)

      • Rochelle Frank profile imageAUTHOR

        Rochelle Frank 

        9 years ago from California Gold Country

        I think I do, too. Or the Mary Cassatt I'm not really crazy about any of them. Maybe it just seems a little voueristic to be peeking at them, or maybe it is just a really difficult subject to depict.

        I appreciate your comment, knowing you are an at history person.

      • Uninvited Writer profile image

        Susan Keeping 

        9 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

        Wonderful hub :) I have to say of all the illustrations here I prefer Rodin's...

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