Feature: ArtScene

ArtScene: Rodin's The Kiss at Turner Margate

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Margate. Ronnie’s third ex said she could have kissed Michelangelo’s David into life. Given his teeth after the Munich beer fest fracas and his boutique halitosis (her ex, not Michelangelo) I’m surprised he ever got to find out.  

Now we’re standing in front of the biggest kiss in the world. Four and one half tonnes of entwined bodies and more than seven feet tall. Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss. Ronnie says she wants to touch it, it’s that erotic. Whatever wets your lips.

Rodin never thought much of The Kiss, but apart from The Thinker, it’s what he’s best known for. I much prefer his wonderful drawings and watercolours, quite sensual in their nature and, in the words of the man himself, “It’s quite simple, my drawings are the key to my work: my sculpture is merely drawing in all the dimensions.”

Like many sculptures, the artist did more than one and this Kiss has a curious history. It was commissioned by an American classical Greek speaking oddball, EP Warren, son of a wealthy Massachusetts paper maker. EP set up home in the town of Lewes just along from the sometime Regency watering hole, Brighton.

He bought in and shipped back to America works that were supposed to be antiquities. Many were common Italian forgeries. These were the early 1920s. Everyone was faking it. Warren offered The Kiss on loan to the local museum, but the good people of Lewes (the Lake Wobegone of southern England) were so appalled by the near-earth eroticism of Rodin’s work, that they covered it up with a sheet.

When Warren died, The Kiss went to auction but didn’t reach its £,9000 reserve. It ended up on loan to The Tate and in 1955, the museum bought it in for £7,500. Today’s value £12-14million minimum. For the moment, it’s on loan again - this time at the new Turner Contemporary Gallery in south east England coastal town of Margate. 

The new gallery is the ideal setting. Rodin’s masterpiece is in the most wonderful natural light reflected by the sea and huge uninterrupted skies through tall clear windows. The gallery is named after JMW Turner who lived in the town while he painted the raging winter seas so common along this Kentish foreland (Turner and the Elements opens 28 January next).

Turner Shipwreck Margate.jpg

Outside, the first autumn winds spat sea spray into our cheeks and hair. We muttered darkly at the waving arms of the giant offshore, windmills supposedly winding armatures of electricity to save our dull green and too often unpleasant land. Turner of course, would have been out there in the tippiest of dinghies in a Force 8 storm painting them as ghosts of insanity. If he had, we’d have admired both canvas and pylons - maybe even have called them works of art.

Margate is pronounced Margit by locals and called, Poor Old Margate by its fans.  It’s one of those places that was always on its way up but forgot to do it. The Turner Gallery has stirred the optimists once more. The tea rooms are doing better business. Houses are cheap, but people from outside are starting to buy. Ask anyone, when the artists move in the neighbourhood moves up.

Ronnie says is just the beginning and as she’s had so many beginnings I assume she knows what she’s talking about. Can you do a kiss in marble? “O yes,” she says. “Ignore the tonnage, this one’s about to get going.” Not what Rodin thought at all. But maybe the people of Lewes were right.

TC Richard Bryant.jpg

If you can, take a train from Platform 4 at Charing Cross to Margate. Worth the detour.

ArtScene Quote: A large sculptured knick-knack following the usual formula - Rodin on The Kiss.

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Fiona Graham-Mackay, is London's newest royal portrait painter. She is also recently back from painting in the Pakistan-Afghan border. She studied at London's Royal College of Art, had a studio in Paris before returning to the UK to paint and teach in London, Spain and Italy. Her next assignments are…

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