Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss comes to Edinburgh

When it comes to Valentine’s Day there’s one thing that everyone wants to be on their lips.

And this year the city of Edinburgh is dusting itself down, putting on its most romantic face and preparing to receive a very special Valentine’s kiss.

Staff at the National Gallery of Scotland have been busy making space to accommodate the famous sculpture by Auguste Rodin, which is being loaned to the Capital for the next year as part of a very special agreement with the Tate in London.

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The magnificent sculpture is expected to draw in huge crowds when it goes on public display from March 1, with this being the first time it has ever been shown in a Scottish gallery.

And in the manner of many an awkward first kiss, getting everything into place hasn’t been entirely straightforward, with the delivery of the sculpture delayed so that adjustments can be made to get the imposing marble plinth into the gallery after its drive north.

After waiting so long for the piece however, another slight delay isn’t going to dampen the enthusiasm of local art lovers, who are benefitting from some fortuitous circumstances.

The Kiss is being moved from its long-term home at Tate Britain as they are carrying out refurbishment work, and rather than put such a famous piece into storage wanted to ensure it could be enjoyed by the public.

At the same time, the Scottish National Gallery’s display of Antonio Canova’s The Three Graces was coming to and end, leaving a big space to be filled.

Michael Clarke, director of the Scottish National Gallery, says it has been fortunate timing that was allowing one of the world’s most recognisable works of art to be shown.

“It has been more by chance than anything, but we were set to lose The Three Graces for a year, as we share it with another gallery, and so we had a space to fill,” he says.

“Then the Tate got in touch and asked if we wanted to take The Kiss, as they were carrying out work and didn’t really want to hide it away in storage.

“It’s fantastic, and I’m sure it will be very popular, as this will be the first time it has been on display at a gallery in Scotland.

“We don’t have it yet – it’s being driven up from London, but there has been a delay as the plinth is a little too big to get through the doors, so we’ve just been working that out. But we’re hopeful it will arrive on Valentine’s Day, which would be very fitting.”

The marble sculpture is, says Mr Clarke, not overbearing but still very striking, carved from a single piece of marble so that the form of embracing lovers seem to rise up out of the very rock they rest upon.

And given that it is such as astonishing work, it’s hardly surprising that just because the actual sculpture has never been on display in Scotland, it will not have stopped people from seeing copies, replicas or versions.

Three full-scale marble versions of The Kiss were made in Rodin’s lifetime, and the sculptor also made smaller versions in plaster, terracotta and bronze. Such was allure of The Kiss that hundreds of bronze copies were produced by the Barbedienne foundry.

As a result, this spectacular sculpture has become one of the most instantly recognised and best-loved works of art in the world.

“It had an extraordinary impact,” says Michael. “Rodin himself was an extremely popular artist in his lifetime, known for creating these monumental works such as The Thinker, which always reflected on humanity and the human form.

“There is a whole museum devoted to him in Paris, and copies of his work can be found in collections across the world.”

Having first shown The Kiss to huge popular acclaim in 1898, Rodin was commissioned to make the second version – the one coming to the Capital – which was completed in 1904.

The work depicts the adulterous lovers Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, who appear as characters in Dante’s The Divine Comedy.

Dante relates how the couple’s passion grew as they read together the story of Lancelot and Guinevere – the book can just be seen in Paolo’s hand – but they were discovered and murdered by Francesca’s outraged husband, Paolo’s older brother Giancotto.

The story inspired many playwrights, composers and artists in the 19th century, and is also the subject of a much-loved painting in the Gallery’s collection, Francesca da Rimini (1837) by Sir William Dyce.

However, Michael admitted they would not be using The Kiss as the centrepiece to a wider exhibition.

“At the moment we are just planning to get it in there and give people the opportunity to come and see it,” he says.

“It will fit quite well into our collection as it is, and we’re all just looking forward top its arrival.”

• Auguste Rodin’s sculpture The Kiss will be kept on display at the Scottish National Gallery from March 1, 2013 to February 2, 2014.