Ah, the kiss. The most romantic expression of love and tenderness. You may think that kissing as a subject in fine art is trite or cliche, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been depicted beautifully by many of the world’s most well-known and respected artists. As my Valentine to you, I have rounded up some of the most interesting and iconic expressions of “The Kiss” (Le Baiser, Der Kuss) by established artists over the past 150 years.
The Evolution Of The Kiss In Art
this post has been updated since originally published in 2014
The Kiss has long been a favorite subject for painters but no one has captured it quite like the pieces shown below, many of which have been reproduced over and over again. Here are some very famous – and not so famous – versions in chronological order starting with one of the most well-known examples that inspired many of the others, Francesco Hayez’ The Kiss.
Francesco Hayez, The Kiss, 1859. A classic and romantic embrace:
Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, marble sculpture. The piece was initially commissioned by the French State in 1888 and carved between 1888 and 1898. It was cast in bronze by Rodin as well:
William-Adolphe Bouguereau‘s most famous painting, Cupid and Psyche as Infants, is often incorrectly labeled as Le Premier Baiser (The First Kiss, 1873), 1890:
One of the earliest known paintings of a same sex kiss is that by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. He actually painted two works of the female couple in a lip lock in the same year and the two are often confused. Lautrec himself considered In Bed, The Kiss (1892) as the epitome of pleasurable and sensual delight.
The Kiss, 1892:
In Bed, The Kiss (1892):
Edvard Munch also created multiple versions of his own interpretation of The Kiss in oil paint, lithography and woodcut as shown below. Although this painting is hugely romantic, in both time and subject matter, there is an underlying current of darkness, and perhaps secrecy, enhanced by the use of darkness in the image.
The Museum of Modern Art, stated that this element of darkness was due to the fact that Munch was ambivalent to matters of the heart and romance. Reinhold Hellerfinds, an art historian, also believed that the merging of the two faces was not a romantic image, but one that evoked death, due to a loss of identity and individual existence within the world
The Kiss painting, 1897:
The Kiss lithograph, 1897:
The Kiss woodcut, 1897:
Easily the most well-known of Austrian painter Gustave Klimt’s work is his The Kiss, painted between 1908 and 1909. which represents the apex of the artist’s “Golden Period.”:
Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi’s modern interpretation in stone as well as plaster. He created many versions of The Kiss, further simplifying geometric forms and sparse objects in each version, tending each time further toward abstraction.
The Kiss, stone, 1907-1910:
The Kiss, plaster, 1907-1910:
Rene Magritte‘s surrealist interpretation of The Kiss (aka The Lovers II), 1951 was a companion piece to another painting of the hooded figures. It has been said that the inspiration for this piece, and the partner piece, The Lovers I, was from the story ‘Fantomas,’ which is a series of pulp thrillers that initially appeared in 1912. In this work, the lead character – The Phantom – is continually disguised with a black hood covering his head, with eye-holes cut out.:
Pablo Picasso actually created many pieces (at least 10) named The Kiss (or Le Baiser) during the years of his life.
First, his figurative version of The Kiss (also known as The Embrace), approximately 1905:
His abstracted version of The Kiss in 1925:
Picasso’s surrealist version of The Kiss (also known as Figures By The Seaside) in 1931:
In 1969, Picasso painted a series of three pictures on the theme of ‘The Kiss’ (artist Jeff Koons owns one the momochromatic version on the left of the second photo) a day before his 88th birthday at his home at Mougins along the Côte d’Azur, where he lived the last fifteen years of his life:
And yet another painting of The Kiss by Picasso in 1969:
Roy Lichtenstein, The Kiss, 1962
No list of artworks throughout history can be complete without a piece from Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein:
The Kiss at The Hotel de Ville (1950) by French photographer Robert Doisneau, who photographed life on the streets of Paris beginning in 1930, is the one of the most recognized images of kisses in the world.
Joël Peter Witkin, an American photographer whose work often involves corpses, created this grotesque version of The Kiss in 1982:
Photographer Nan Goldin captured Risé and Monty Kissing in New York in 1988:
South African artist Tracey Rose, who works with photography, video installations and performance art, created this live installation of The Kiss in 2001 of which 6 editions of Lamba prints were made:
William Cobbing further contemporized The Kiss by adding yet another medium, video, in 2004 for his Kiss 2:
Street artist Banksy‘s Kissing Coppers was spray-painted on to the side of the Prince Albert pub in Trafalgar Street near Brighton city centre in 2004. It has became one of Banksy’s most famous street works:
Artist Marc Quinn has the following to say about his 2006 sculpture, Another Kiss:
“I was in the British Museum looking at people admiring the fragmented marble statuary, when it struck me that if someone whose body was in the same shape as the sculptures were to come into the room, most of the admirers would have the opposite reaction. It was interesting to me to see what is acceptable in art, but unacceptable in life. As I made the series of works, I realised that they were also about what a beautiful body is, and how narrow our vision of that is, and about the connection between inside and outside. By that I actually mean disconnection, for when one of the models for these pieces closes their eyes, they feel the same inside as you or I, yet often physically disabled people are treated as if they are mentally disabled. Although the models’ bodies are visually comparable to the antique fragmented marble statues, of course my sculptures are portraits of whole people and not fragments of people. That was interesting to me, too.” – Marc Quinn, Recent Sculptures Catalogue, Groninger Museum, 2006:
Inspired by a journalist’s photo of then Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and East German leader Erich Honecker sharing a kiss, Russian artist Dmitry Vrubel, painted his version of it on a surviving portion of the Berlin Wall in 2009:
The Kiss, 2013 as seen by contemporary artist Erwin Wurm:
Artist Sarah Pope is famous for her ‘lips’ art. Her Steel Kiss in Neon, 2015, is from a series of several lip paintings with attached neon lighting:
And lastly, contemporary figurative painter, Minneapolis born Malcolm T. Liepke painted his version of The Kiss in 2016, which shares the passion and desire with the first romantic painting shown in this post (Hayez’ The Kiss) created over 150 years earlier:
Interested in an even greater collection of kisses in art? check out The Kiss: A Celebration of Love in Art
And there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my selections and I wish all of you a very Happy Valentine’s Day with lots of kisses.