Rodin’s “The Kiss” Proves a Blockbuster Attraction at Margate’s Turner Contemporary

Since being loaned by the Tate to Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kent last October, Auguste Rodin‘s “The Kiss” has had over 400,000 visitors to see its doomed lovers trapped forever in a tense embrace. As BBC News reported, “The Kiss” has helped bring in 4 percent more visitors compared to the previous year, where it is displayed alone in a stunning glass-walled gallery with framed views to the sea and sky — and, on the occasion of hometown hero Tracy Emin‘s recent visit, an Olympic torch — a bright modern setting that contrasts with the sensually erotic shapes of the marble sculpture.

“The Kiss” was created by Rodin as part of his Dante‘s “Inferno”-inspired “The Gates of Hell,” which includes around 200 figures, with the two lovers representing Francesca de Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, condemned to the whirl of grasping bodies that Dante encounters on the second level of hell. The sculpture held by the Tate is one of three full-scale versions that were created during Rodin’s lifetime, being completed in 1904. Their sin, like that of the other tormented lovers, was said to be a forbidden romance, with Francesca falling in love with Paolo after he stood in for his deformed brother, Gianciotto, in an arranged marriage ceremony.

Dante wrote that they were inspired by the adulterous love of Lancelot and Guinevere, and in the sculpture the book is still held in Paolo’s hand. Gianciotto eventually finds them together and Francesca is accidentally killed when she runs in between the brothers’ swords, Gianciotto then slaying Paolo (other versions of the story have them both dying at once with a single slash by Gianciotto). While the story behind their kiss is tortured, the presentation at Margate gives them an alluring romance that continues to draw admirers, even if their lips still don’t quite touch. According to the BBC, “The Kiss” was voted the nation’s favorite artwork in a 2003 poll, and until September 2 they will still get to see its captivating angles caressed by the light from the North Sea.

— Allison Meier