The Kiss/Le Baiser/Der Kuss/Il Bacio

By | July 6, 2017

With the International Kissing Day (6th July) just behind us, it seems appropriate to look at some famous kisses in art. There is no way to touch on all images concerned with this eternal subject of a fundamental human act of love, but perhaps the small selection below will inspire you to look for more of its representations in art. In any case, it is something to be celebrated, so let’s get to it.

Gustave Klimt, “The Kiss” (detail, 1908), 180x180cm, Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna

When I think of ‘the kiss’, the ultimate image that comes to mind is Gustave Klimt’s ‘Der Kuss’. The image has appeared on reprints, china, glassware, scarves, carpets, bed spreads, and God knows where else! Even at IKEA you can now find Klimt’s quintessential kiss. Klimt’s career was on a downhill when he painted this: the work he did on the University of Vienna ceiling was dismissed as perverted and pornographic. Not sure if the downhill produces particularly poignant work, but ‘The Kiss’ was bought before it was even finished, despite Klimt seriously doubting his artistic abilities! It continued to break sales records throughout its lifetime.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ (1890), Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Jean-Leon Gerome’s Pygmalion and Galatea (1890) tells the story of a sculptor in the throes of passion kissing his creation – the moment in which the sculpture comes to life. This image always makes me tingly inside – it is art and life entangled within art, within life. This is intertextuality on so many levels, and a magnificent demonstration of the power of love and desire.

Francesco Hayez II’s The Kiss (1859) shows young romance, a stolen kiss in the corridors of an Italian castle, in the quiet of the night. This painting is even positioned in the corner at Pinacoteca di Brera – fitting choice given its subject and composition. As you enter the last hall of the gallery, you notice the secretly stolen kiss in the left corner, hung deliberately low to emphasise the secretive nature of the lovers’ passion. I’m always concerned about the shadow of a man coming up the stairs on the bottom left of the composition.

Rene Magritte, ‘Les amants’ (1928), Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Rene Magritte’s The Lovers II (1928) is a celebrated surrealist work by the Belgian artist. Its minimalist colour palette focuses attention on the couple itself, evoking multiple emotions and interpretations by keeping their faces coves. The Lovers I (also 1928) shows the couple looking out of the frame straight at the viewer – with their faces still covered. The images balance the stable and cool blues of the man with the passionate red of the woman, enclosing both with the walls and the ceiling rising just above their heads. This is a piece you can look at for hours…

The Kiss 1967 Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 Bequeathed by Joanna Drew 2003, accessioned 2006 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12203

Picasso gives us a blunter depiction with his drawing The Kiss (1967) – this is unapologetic lust, carnal desire and cannibalistic eroticism. Painted when Picasso was 86 years old, this image is often said to show his lust for life. The image is full of unbroken lines, echoing the merge of the two figures. The simplicity of the drawing medium allows to focus our attention on line and form, as if stripping it from any decorative features – just as the artist strips his ‘kiss’ to its base form.

There are millions more! If you have a favourite image of kiss, please share with us here – and let’s celebrate this enticing, provocative, comforting and human act. Happy International Kissing Day!

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