Rodin’s Le Baiser

AW concludes with Jenkins musing on love as he rushes to meet Jean; in his pocket is a French postcard from her, showing  “a man and a woman sitting literally one on top of the other in an armchair upholstered with crimson plush.”

“The mere act of a woman sitting on a man’s knee, rather than a chair, certainly suggested the Templer milieu. A memorial to Templer himself, in marble or bronze, were public demand ever to arise for so unlikely a cenotaph, might suitably take the form of a couple so grouped. For some reason — perhaps a confused memory of Le Baiser — the style of Rodin came to mind. Templer’s own point of view seems to approximate to that earlier period of the plastic arts. Unrestrained emotion was the vogue then, treatment more in his line than some of the bleakly intellectual statuary of our own generation. ” [AW 222/213 ]

Le Baiser Auguste Rodin, 1889 marble 72 x 44 x 46 in Rodin Museum, Paris photo in public domain from Wikimedia Commons

Le Baiser
Auguste Rodin, 1889
marble 72 x 44 x 46 in
Rodin Museum, Paris
photo in public domain from Wikimedia Commons

Rodin first sculpted Le Baiser (The Kiss) in 1882 as a representation of Paolo and Francesca. The story, from Dante’s Divine Comedy, is that Francesca’s husband killed them when he surprised them in their first kiss. The French government commission an enlargement of the work in marble, which Rodin first displayed in 1898. He subsequently made other marble copies, and many bronzes casts have been made as well.

Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917) grew up in the Parisian working class and evolved his style through apprenticeship and travel in France, Belgium, and Italy, until he began to exhibit his own large figures in 1877.  Powell described Rodin [SPA 247-249] as inherently conservative, dedicated to Michelangelo, but having a revolutionary impact on the art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was a student of anatomy, in part from his friendship with the great neurologist Charcot. He was a compulsive womanizer, who viewed his depiction of women as homage to them, showing them as full partners with men in ardor.  When it was first exhibited, some viewed Le Baiser as inappropriate for display to the general public. Perhaps it is this erotic effect of Le Baiser that Jenkins refers to when he says, “unrestrained emotion was the vogue then.”

Reviewing AW when it was published in 1955, Kingsley Amis wrote:

“Though so firmly located in the sequence which includes it, The Acceptance World differs from its predecessors in some elements of presentation. There is a departure from the earlier practice whereby all manner of paintings and sculptures got brought in to provide decoration’ and imagery, the fictitious ones so vividly that one could hardly credit not having come across Mr. Deacon’s Boyhood of Cyrus, in particular, in some municipal gallery, and the real ones with such insistence that one wondered at times whether Mr. Powell might not have been intending finally to pass under review the entire corpus of Western visual art. ”

Looking back at our posts, we think that Amis seems to have overlooked the continued reflections on the growth of Modernism that Powell includes in AW.  Rodin, because of his central role at the turn of the century, is a fitting final reference to visual art in AW. Jenkins, complaining of the “bleakly intellectual statuary of our own generation” and including references to artists like Epstein, Zadkine, and Lipchitz, emphasizes the constant turmoil of artistic evolution.


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1 Response to Rodin’s Le Baiser

  1. Pingback: A Sergeant from a Snaffles | picturesinpowell

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