Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point

In Depth

On Air

Low Graphics

Wednesday, June 2, 1999 Published at 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK


Return of the prodigal lovers

Rodin's passionate masterpiece is back at home in Lewes

Pulses will be racing in the East Sussex town of Lewes from Wednesday with the arrival of Rodin's passionate masterpiece the Kiss.

Lewes prepares to welcome its passionate claim to fame
It is 85 years since the sculpture was first banned for being too lewd from what was then its home town.

But now, on loan from the Tate Gallery in London, it has made a triumphal return to take centre stage in a five-month exhibition to celebrate the new millennium.

[ image: London's Tate Gallery now owns The Kiss]
London's Tate Gallery now owns The Kiss
The statue depicts lovers Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini from Dante's Inferno, locked in a heated embrace.

The exhibition sees it lined up alongside 12 other Rodin pieces, loaned by London's Victoria and Albert Museum and the Musée Rodin in Paris.

All eyes will, however, be on The Kiss, not only for its steamy subject matter but because of its close ties with the otherwise conservative Sussex town.

An inspirational story

It is this relationship, and the extraordinary story behind it, that inspired local writer John May to stage the event.

[ image: Lewes: Once rejected its famous masterpiece]
Lewes: Once rejected its famous masterpiece
The Kiss, now worth £10million, was originally commissioned for £1,000 by the rich Bostonian Edward Warren, known as the "mad millionaire".

He transformed his Lewes Mansion into a gallery of rare works of art, including Auguste Rodin's marble sculpture which arrived in 1904.

But when the statue went on public display, its risque subject matter caused such an outcry that it was returned to Mr Warren's home.

Mr May explained: "It created a scandal because there were many young troops in the same building and a group of local puritans in the town considered it unseemly.

"It led to the statue first being draped, then removed."

The Kiss was stored in obscurity at the stable block in Mr Warren's home until it was bought by the Tate Gallery in London in 1933.

A moving experience

Putting it on show these days no longer causes concerns over what the public will think, but over the statue's safety.

Standing eight feet tall and weighing in at three-and-a-half tons, moving the famous marble statue has been difficult work.

[ image: Practising the move with bags of cement]
Practising the move with bags of cement
Nonetheless, SculptureCo, the company organising the exhibition was well-prepared for the technical and safety issues involved.

"We specially designed a steel trolley and special railway to carry the statue into Lewes Town Hall where the exhibition is being held.

"We also carried out a dummy run of the shift last week using two-kilogramme bags of cement wrapped in celophane," said Paul Myles, structural engineer for SculptureCo.

Once in place, The Kiss will be put under 24-hour guard by a private security firm.

The project to return The Kiss to Lewes has been a long, and expensive ten-year campaign - the security bill alone has cost £45m.

Nonetheless, unlike their forebears, the present day inhabitants of Lewes have willingly supported the return visit of its claim to fame.

"The campaign has involved all sections of the community, has been a massive effort and is a real credit to the town," said John May.

The Rodin in Lewes exhibition runs from 5 June to 30 October 1999 at Lewes Town Hall, East Sussex. For more information call 01273 484 010.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage | ©

Entertainment Contents

TV and Radio
New Media

Relevant Stories

28 May 99 | Entertainment
Tate and V&A share their art

Internet Links

Musee Auguste Rodin in Paris

Lewes District Council

Tate Gallery

Victoria and Albert Museum

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites.