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Arriving at the academic fini state – a finished 19th-century sculpture – demanded many phases of work. The process usually included drawings on paper, small three-dimensional sketches called bozzetti, and eventually a full-scale model in clay. Later stages, like the plaster cast and the subsequent carving of the sculpture in marble or casting it in bronze were typically executed in the workshops of craftsmen, without the necessity of the artist’s presence.

August Rodin naturally drew on the achievements of the age but he followed a unique path that would lay the groundwork for new tendencies in art. In line with the fashion of the day, his sculptures presented grand literary subjects but Rodin disposed with the clutter and theatrical narratives to convey a pithy bodily expression. He did away with the pathos of literal allegory in favour of ambiguous symbolism. He also eschewed planning his compositions in great detail, preferring to show the world a work that was ostentatiously unfinished, as if abandoned at the bozzetto state. His sculptures, cast in bronze or carved by a stonecutter, still bear remnants of the artist’s clay models. The soft surfaces make it seem as if impressions of the artist’s hands remain in the final work.

The sculpture here depicts Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta. The tragic tale of the lovers murdered by Francesca’s jealous husband was first penned by Dante Alighieri in The Divine Comedy. Rodin’s The Kiss was intended as an element for The Gates of Hell, a massive set of doors whose quarters are adorned with figures from The Divine Comedy. The artist poured many years into the monumental work but never completed it. Nevertheless, his efforts did spawn pieces like The Kiss and The Thinker, today among the most recognisable works of sculpture in the world. The artist left his signature on more than three hundred versions of The Kiss, in marble, plaster, terracotta and bronze.

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