Auguste Rodin - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | Phillips
  • Introduction


    Born only two days apart in 1840, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin were more than close contemporaries, going on to become two of the most significant artists working in their respective disciplines during this important period. As well as showing together at several group exhibitions, including their notable joint retrospective in 1889 during the Exposition Universelle, they also greatly admired and even collected one another’s work. Phillips Hong Kong in Association with Poly Auction is honoured to present two works by these great Modern masters thus reuniting the artists again and for the first time in Asia.


    “For our delight we read of Lancelot,How him love thrall'd.
    Alone we were, and no
    Suspicion near us             then he, who ne'er
    From me shall separate, at once my lips
    All trembling kiss'd.”
    — Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, Canto V


    At once tender and erotic, Auguste Rodin’s Le Baiser remains one of the most iconic and timeless depictions of sensual desire in the history of Western art. What art critic Alastair Sooke has described as a ‘universal representation of sexual infatuation’ was in fact so intimately observed and immediately recognised that it scandalised the British public on its unveiling there in 1914 to such a degree that it was apparently covered with a tarpaulin and hidden in a stable block.i


    A vivid depiction of forbidden passion, Le Baiser and the earlier L’Eternel Printemps on which it is closely modelled tells the story of doomed lovers Paolo and Francesca, cast into the second circle of hell in Dante Alighieri’s Inferno after their adulterous liaison was discovered by Paolo’s older brother, Francesca’s husband. Flying into a rage at their betrayal, he killed them both. As the 13th century source narrative explained, the two were overcome by passion upon reading Arthurian tales of courtly love, the tragic story of Guinevere and Lancelot igniting their own passion and alluded to here with the subtle inclusion of the forgotten book in Paolo’s hand. The only outward sign disclosing their identity, the trysting couple are otherwise elevated to a universal expression of passionate desire, a fact emphasised by early critics who suggested that ‘this adorable group of lovers […] should simply have been called The Kiss, or nothing at all.’ii


    Rodin, Dante, and La Porte de L’Enfer



    Auguste Rodin, La Porte de l’Enfer, c. 1890, Musée Rodin, Paris

    "For a whole year I lived with Dante, with him alone, drawing the eight circles of his inferno." 
    — Auguste Rodin


    Standing at over six meters tall and occupying the sculptor for more than thirty years, Rodin’s masterpiece La Porte de l’Enfer occupies a definitive position in his oeuvre. A hugely important commission from the French government who first approached the sculptor in 1880, the monumental bronze was originally conceived as the entrance to a proposed Decorative Arts Museum and gave rise to some of Rodin’s most recognisable, experimental, and historically significant works including Le Penseur and Les Trois Ombres.


    Originally intended to occupy a prominent position on the left-hand side of La Porte de L’Enfer Rodin ultimately decided that the Le Baiser’s elevation of love and desire was too uplifting for the more desperately tragic overtones of the larger composition, replacing the lovers with a couple ‘clinging onto one another, like children terrified by their inexorable destiny.’iii In a commercially savvy move, he instead exhibited it at the Galerie Georges Petit and the Exposition Générale des Beux Arts in Brussels, where its narrative associations to tragic love and the conventions of courtly romance captured visitor’s imaginations, and it swiftly became one of the artist’s most widely referenced works.


    Well-known to European audiences, the story of Francesca and Paolo’s forbidden love embodied the codes courtly love that were going through something of a renaissance in the 19th century, inspiring numerous theatrical and operatic adaptations. The tragic drama of the story of these ill-fated lovers and of Dante’s vivid description of the second circle of hell as an eternal whirlwind that reflected the lustful passions of its inhabitants also appealed to artists during the early decades of the 19th century, with Henry Fuseli, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres all creating depictions of the scene.




    Left: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta, 1819
    Musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers
    Right: Le Baiser by Rodin in the Dépôt des marbes studio, c. 1898
    Photograph by Eugène Druet



    A Matter of Technique  


    “Any artist worthy of the name should express all the truth of nature, not only the exterior truth, but also, and above all, the inner truth.” 
    — Auguste Rodin


    As the recent exhibition The Making of Rodin at the Tate Modern in London has emphasised, Rodin’s sculptural process continues to be a matter of critical fascination. Focusing on his work in plaster, the exhibition drew out key sculptural principles that operated at the heart of Rodin’s practice, including issues of enlargement and repetition which are particularly important to discussions of Le Baiser. After the positive reception to Le Baiser in Paris and Brussels, Rodin conformed that the composition ultimately worked better in the round, and in 1888 the Ministry of Arts commissioned him to produce two larger-than-life marble versions of the work. Although not exhibited until 1898, it caused an immediate sensation, and went on to be shown at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900.


    Alongside the three large marble sculptures, one of which still resides at the Musée Rodin in Paris, the success of Le Baiser ensured its reproduction in the form of bronze reductions. Undertaken by the Leblanc-Barbedienne foundry, the present work is a lifetime 1914 cast of one of only two 1898 reductions. Several of these Barbedienne casts are now in public collections, including the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Library of Congress in Washington DC and the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. Retaining its emotive power and evocative sensuality, the supple contortion of the bodies and the electricity created with the touch of Paolo’s hand on Francesca’s thigh, Le Baiser is a supreme expression of Rodin’s pursuit of a sculpture that ‘embodies a process of thought, implicating the perceiver, creating bodies that seem to live, breathe, and that are capable of touch.’iv



    Auguste Rodin in his workshop in Meudon, circa 1910





    Collector’s Digest


    Rodin’s sculptures rank amongst Renaissance masters Michelangelo and Donatello as some of the most iconic and instantly recognisable sculptural depictions of the human form in Western art. Of these timeless works, Le Baiser in particular remains a universally recognised symbol of love and desire.


    Widely reproduced, it has also appeared prominently in various Rodin retrospectives over the years. With one version appearing at the entrance to the sensational Tate Modern exhibition ‘The Making of Rodin’, Le Baiser also appears side by side with the 1969 Picasso work of the same title on the cover of the catalogue for the Picasso - Rodin exhibition, currently on view concurrently at the Musée Rodin and the Museé national Picasso – Paris.




    Jane Burton discusses the fascinating history of Le Baiser for TateShots



    i Alastair Sooke, ‘The Shocking Story of the Kiss’, BBC Culture, 19 November 2015, online 

    ii Lucien Solvay, ‘Le Salon’, in La Nation, no. 270, September 1887 

    iii Antoinette le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin: Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin, vol. I, Paris, 2007, p. 162 

    iv Lisa Le Feuvre, ‘Hands Touching’, in The Making of Rodin (exh. cat.), Tate Modern, London, 2021, p. 69

    • Provenance

      Collection of the President of the National Libraries of France (gifted by the National Libraries of France on 26 May 1914)
      Private Collection (by descent from the above)
      Sotheby's, London, 1 March 2017, lot 32
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Rainer Maria Rilke, Auguste Rodin, London, 1917, pl. 6 (another bronze example illustrated)
      Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1929, no. 114, p. 57 (marble example illustrated)
      Georges Grappe, Catalogue du Musée Rodin, Paris, 1944, no. 71 (marble example illustrated)
      Georges Grappe, Le Musée Rodin, Paris, 1947, pl. 71 (marble example illustrated)
      Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1962, p. 49 (marble example illustrated)
      Bernard Champigneuelle, Rodin, London, 1967, nos. 78-79, pp. 162-163 (marble example illustrated)
      Robert Descharnes & Jean-François Chabrun, Auguste Rodin, Lausanne, 1967, p. 131 (marble example illustrated)
      Ionel Jianou and Cécile Goldscheider, Rodin, Paris, 1967, edition pls. 54-55, p. 100 (marble example illustrated)
      Ludwig Goldscheider, Rodin Sculptures, London, 1970, no. 49, p. 121 (marble example illustrated)
      John L. Tancock, The Sculpture of Auguste Rodin, Philadelphia, 1976, p.77 (marble example illustrated)
      Albert E. Elsen, In Rodin's Studio: A Photographic Record of Sculpture in the Making, Oxford, 1980, pls. 108-109, dust jacket (marble example illustrated)
      Hélène Pinet, Rodin, sculpteur et les photographes de son temps, Paris, 1985, no. 34, p. 46 (marble example illustrated)
      Nicole Barbier, Marbres de Rodin: Collection de Musée Rodin, Paris, 1987, no. 79, p. 185 (marble example illustrated)
      Pierre Kjellberg, Les bronzes du XIXe siècle, Paris, 1987, p. 585 (another bronze example illustrated)
      David Finn & Marie Busco, Rodin and his Contemporaries: The Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Collection, New York, 1991, pp. 60-61 (another bronze example illustrated)
      Albert E. Elsen, Rodin's Art, The Rodin Collection of the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Centre for the Visual Arts at Stanford University, New York, 2003, no. 49, pp. 214-215 (another bronze example illustrated)
      Antoinette Le Normand-Romain, The Bronzes of Rodin, Catalogue of Works in the Musée Rodin vol. I, Paris, 2007, p. 160 (another bronze example illustrated)

Property from a Distinguished Private Collection


Le Baiser, 1ère réduction dite aussi "réduction n°1"

incised with the artist’s signature 'Rodin' centre right and foundry mark 'F. Barbedienne, Fondeur' on left lower edge; further incised and numbered 'VL 82' on the underside
bronze with brown/green patina
71.4 x 43.6 x 45.8 cm. (28 1/8 x 17 1/8 x 18 in.)
Conceived in 1886 in a larger scale, this scale was conceived in 1898 and the present lifetime example was cast in bronze by F. Barbedienne Fondeur in May 1914. This work will be included in the forthcoming Auguste Rodin catalogue critique de l'oeuvre sculpté currently being prepared by the Comité Auguste Rodin at Galerie Brame et Lorenceau under the direction of Jérôme Le Blay under the archive no. 2016-5059B.

Full Cataloguing

HK$10,000,000 - 15,000,000 

Sold for HK$11,745,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 30 November 2021