The Gates of Hell and The Kiss
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1901-4 Pentelic marble, executed by Ganier, Rigaud and Mathet. 182.2 x 121.9 x 153 cm. Rodin was invited to make large doors to serve as the monumental entrance to a new museum of decorative arts. He chose Dante’s Divine Comedy as his inspiration and planned to fill rectangular compartments with bas-reliefs. The scenes would be inspired by the stories of the adulterous lovers Paulo and Francesca, the tragic tale of Ugolino and his sons and many nameless figures, faunnesses and damned souls. The link between passion and suffering was the work’s overriding message. Rodin began by making small drawings from his imagination, adding black ink or splashes of gouache to achieve a sculptural effect, changing the poses, genders and emotions of his figures.
The date for completion of the monument was extended again and again. Rodin exhibited individual figures from The Gates, many of which were shocking in their sexual candour. The most famous version of Paulo and Francesca, The Kiss, was first realised in marble in 1889. Edward Perry Warren, a collector of Greek art, ordered the large marble version (now in the Tate’s collection) in 1900. The contract was negotiated by William Rothenstein who informed Rodin that Warren was ‘a pagan man who loved Antiquity’, adding, ‘he is very keen that you should understand that your piece will be the only modern object in his house – in other words, in the best company the world has to offer.’
Auguste Rodin, The Gates of Hell, c. 1890. Bronze, cast by Alexis Rudier. 680 x 400 x 85 cm.
The Gates remained in the artist’s workshop at the Dépôt des Marbres, until they were brought to the one-man exhibition Rodin himself organised at the Place de l’Alma in 1900. Immediately before the opening, Rodin stripped The Gates of the groups and figures, leaving an unreal space, modulated by light and shadow. At the end of his life the figures, as they were in 1890, were restored but Rodin never saw the work cast in bronze. The first copy was finished in 1926, nine years after the artist’s death. Standing at the entrance to the courtyard of Burlington House, The Gates make their first appearance in Britain as part of this exhibition.