10 of the best kisses in art history

From 19th-century sculpture to 20th-century pop art, discover how ten iconic artworks depict the humble kiss.

A peck on the cheek from your grandmother, an air-kiss from an acquaintance, a soulful smooch from someone special… A kiss can mean anything and everything, from an innocent greeting to bone-tingling romance. And it’s traded a million times a day in cultures around the world.

No wonder it’s fascinated artists for centuries and is a recurring theme in art. From illicit love to a tender reunion, read on to discover the ten best kisses in art history and where you can see them in the flesh.

1. Amor and Psyche, Antonio Canova, 1793

This is one of six statues the artist made about the legend of Amor (Cupid) and Psyche. It depicts the dramatic moment after Amor kisses the lifeless Psyche and she awakens from her dark sleep to embrace her lover. Sculpted by the celebrated Antonio Canova, who is famed for his life-like marble statues, this work is considered by many to be a masterpiece of Neoclassicism.

Where: Louvre, Paris

2. The Kiss, Francesco Hayez, 1859

One of the most famous kisses in art history is undoubtedly that of Italian painter Francesco Hayez. The painting shows a young couple kissing in a classically dramatic pose, with the woman leaning back and the man inclined towards her one foot on the stair, as if it to support her or, some say, implying he could run away at any moment. A shadowy form on the left hints at a sense of danger. There are many theories about the story behind the artwork, sadly we’ll never know it’s real meaning. It’s a classic example of Italian romanticism with impressive details.

Where: Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

3. The Kiss, Auguste Rodin, 1882

This marble statue represents the lovers Paolo and Francesca, characters from Dante’s Divine Comedy who were sentenced to wander hell after being murdered by Francesca’s husband. The naked lovers are captured in a passionate embrace before being discovered. Originally part of a larger whole, the work was separated by Rodin and exhibited in 1887. From that moment on the work became a success and was eventually given the name Le Baiser (The Kiss).

Where: Musee Rodin, Paris

4. In Bed: The Kiss, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec is known for his risqué renderings of bohemian Paris at the end of the 19th century, and this work is no exception. A tender portrayal of two women kissing in bed, it was considered radical for its time. The work is part of a series of artworks focused on the intimate relationship between two women. The color scheme has red and yellow tones, tempered by gray, green and blue, which is typical of Post-Impressionism. Originally the work hung in a Paris brothel, but it’s now in the possession of an art collector.

Where: Private Collection

5. The Kiss, Constantin Brâncuși, 1907

Unlike the other artworks selected, this sculpture is a symbolic rendering of two lovers kissing. The male and female forms are virtually indistinguishable from one another and through the simple act of kissing have merged into one. This statue of Brâncuși is considered the first modern sculpture of the 20th century and is an example of his early Cubist style.

Where: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

6. The Kiss, Gustav Klimt, 1908

For many, this iconic work by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt is the quintessential kiss in art history. It’s believed that the artist portrayed himself here with his long-time lover and companion Emilie Louise Flöge, although there’s no actual proof of this. With this work, Klimt challenged ideas of sexuality and eroticism in early 20th-century Vienna. It can be interpreted as a tribute to pleasure and love, although some say it shows the resistance of women against men, as the woman is not returning the man’s kiss.

Where: Österreichische Galerie Belvedere, Vienna

7. The Lovers, René Magritte, 1928

Famed surrealist René Magritte also put his own spin on the kiss, adding a touch of subversiveness to the subject. This work is part of a series of four works in which two people kiss while their heads are covered with cloth. Some believe the cloth is a reference to the suicide of the artist’s mother by drowning and the wet gown that obscured her face. Others think it represents an impossible, forbidden or past love. Whatever the meaning, the image is as unsettling as it is captivating.

Where: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York

8. Kiss V, Roy Lichtenstein, 1964

Kiss V is just one of many comic-inspired artworks that Lichtenstein created during the height of his career. His pop art style is clearly visible in this work through the use of bright colors and his iconic Ben-Day dots. It shows a close-up of a tearful embrace between a man and a woman, which raises questions such as, is the woman shedding tears of joy or sadness? Are we witnessing a tearful goodbye or a heartfelt reunion? The image is charged with innuendo, which leaves it open to interpretation.

Where: Collection Charles Simonyi, Seattle

9. Kissing Coppers, Banksy, 2004

While the identity of Banksy remains a mystery, one thing we know for sure is that this is one of his most famous works. In 2004 it appeared on a wall next to a Brighton pub. It shows two British policemen engaged in a fervent kiss. Some have interpreted it as a statement against homophobia, while others believe its goal is to ridicule the authorities. As the work was often damaged, the pub owner decided to remove and sell it. It’s since been replaced with a copy.

Where: The copy can be found on a wall next to the Prince of Albert Pub, Brighton

10. Mural del Beso, Joan Foncuberta, 2014

This mural of a kiss (officially called “El mundo nace en cada beso”, literally translated as “The world is born in each kiss”) is a photo mosaic created in 2014 by photographer Joan Foncuberta and ceramicist Antoni Cumella. From a distance it appears to be a picture of two kissing mouths, but as you get closer you see that the work consists of hundreds of small photos. These photos are “moments of freedom” submitted by numerous participants. You won’t find this work of art in a museum either, but in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Although it may take a while to find it, it’s well worth the effort.

Where: Plaza de Isidre Nonell, Barcelona

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