Nineteenth-century viewers and critics were immediately taken with Rodin's three-dimensional group, entitled Paolo and Francesca, the passionate lovers from the fifth canto of Dante's Inferno. When one enthusiastic critic referred to it as The Kiss, the new title stuck, and the association with Dante's ill-fated lovers gave way to a more contemporary, universal response to their passionate embrace.
By including only one specific reference to the lovers' story (Paolo holds in his left hand the book of courtly love they read together), Rodin encouraged viewers to become immersed in the spiraling rhythms of the entwined bodies and the sensuous finish of smooth limbs against pitted rock.
Rodin had intended to include this work in his monumental Gates of Hell, the high-relief sculptural doors that he would cover with figures from Dante's Divine Comedy. But the sculptor removed the pair of lovers from the Gates, instead developing it as an independent grouping. The original bronze sculpture (almost three feet high) was reproduced in bronze and marble, in both enlarged and reduced versions. The National Gallery's diminutive golden bronze work (under ten inches) is one of sixty-nine versions of this size. In 1902 Rodin presented it as a souvenir to a loyal American patron, Kate Simpson, after she posed for her portrait bust in the sculptor's Paris studio. It bears his personal inscription: "homage to Madame Kate Simpson in memory of hours in the studio. September 1902."
More information on this object can be found in the Gallery publication European Sculpture of the Nineteenth Century, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/european-sculpture-19th-century.pdf
on front of rock, stamped below left hip of female figure: RODIN; on left side of rock, in script: hommage à Madame / Kate Simpson / en souvenir des heures / d'atelier Sept 1902 / A. Rodin; stamped below dedication is Collas metal inset: REDUCTION MÉCHANIQUE / A. COLLAS / BREVETE; by hand on right bottom edge, below right foot of male figure: F. BARBEDIENNE, Fondeur; stamped inside cast: R / 407
Marks and Labels
FM (below right foot of male figure): F. BARBEDIENNE Fondeur
Purchased 1902 from the artist by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Simpson, New York; gift 1942 to NGA.
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