The Kiss 1

What can be more delicate, more affectionate, more lovely than a kiss? It is a theme that many artists have addressed, and the Russians (and Georgians) are no different.

Fyodor Moller (1812-1874) painted ‘The Kiss‘ in 1840. Modelled by his lover Amalia Lavagnini, it belongs in his first Italian period. This painting is in the academic tradition of training. From the 17th century, art students had been made to prepare studies of a bridegroom and bride, or more simply, subjects with two faces. Moller, encouraged by his teacher Karl Brueller to study genre scenes of the quotidian life, insinuated ordinary Italians into his works of the time. He enlarged the figures, paying particular attention to the precise depiction of the faces and emotions of his subjects. Irresistible feeling, horror and fright – all these were elements of the romantic aesthetic ‘The Kiss’ became a sensation, establishing Moller’s fame. The original was purchased by Czar Nicholas I. The image here is one of many variations that Moller essayed in his subsequent career. [1]

The Kiss, by Fyodor Moller. (1840).

The Kiss, by Fyodor Moller. (1840).

Ivan Silych Goryushkin-Sorokopudov (1873-1954) painted ‘The Kiss‘ in the 1910s. The subject was connected to Alexei Tolstoy’s novel ‘The Silver Knyaz’ for which Goryushkin-Sorokopudov prepared a set of illustrations. The artist’s interest in the Russian antiquity was no exception: like others such as Kustodiev and Vasnetsov and Bilibin, he valued the spiritual integrity and optimism of the Russian people. By illustrating old Russia and its rituals, customs and poetry of ancient art, he aimed to promote the development of people’s interest in history and culture. In this work is a decorative and expressive manner accentuated by the placement of the subjects against a dark green background of a garden which makes their clothes shine even brighter, lit up by the setting sun. The impulsive movement of the lovers united in an ardent kiss is stretched in time by the contrasts in light and colour, the dynamics of the lines, in the broad strokes that passionately and confidently accentuate the form. With cheerful colours, Goryushkin-Sorokopudov aims to express in art the identity of Russian life in the the 17th century, governed by a desire to convey the wealth of pure colour that was characteristic of the culture of ancient Russia. [2]

The Kiss, by Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov. (1910s).

The Kiss, by Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov. (1910s).

Konstantin Somov (1879-1939), one of the greats of Russian art, loved the depiction of subjects as though seen through a window. His ‘Ridiculed Kiss‘ (1908) is a comedy of manners, with a grotesque gallant embracing an amorous woman; simultaneously it’s a peep-show, with a leaf-covered trellis providing a vantage point for a spy; and all along, the painter himself mocks the subjects. The study for this painting was made in Oranienbaum near which the artist’s family often sojourned at dacha. This was the former residence of Prince Menshikov and thereafter of Catherine II who enlarged the formal gardens and later commanded banned the admission of ‘the despicable populace in grey caftans and sandals‘. [3]

Ridiculed Kiss, by Konstantin Somov. (1908).

Ridiculed Kiss, by Konstantin Somov. (1908).

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin painted ‘Youth – The Kiss‘ in 1913. This Symbolist painting may be said to depict the first love on earth, that of Adam and Eve. [4]

Youth (The Kiss), by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. (1913).

Marc Chagall‘s ‘Lovers in Blue‘ was painted in 1914 and is one of his finest works. Finished in the year before his marriage to his great love, Bella, ‘the painting binds the couple together by enveloping their heads in a blue haze that emanates from portions of their faces and surrounds their intimate embrace.’ [5]

Lovers in Blue, by Marc Chagall. (1914).

Lovers in Blue, by Marc Chagall. (1914).

Next, we have the dystopian vision of Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957) whose 1916 work, ‘The Kiss‘, depicts two lovers embracing in the foreground of social collapse. Unmindful of what is happening around them, the lovers are wrapped in each other, a hymn of love and freedom and the will towards the luminous and the clean. Dobuzhinsky attached special importance to freedom and dignity, and prior to painting this work, ”he prepared three preparatory sketches through which come through his desire to isolate the lovers and give them the value of semantic centre.” [6]

The Kiss, by Dobzhinsky. (1916).

The Kiss, by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. (1916).

1920 saw the appearance of the Georgian painter Shalva Kikodze‘s ‘City‘, about which I’m unsuccessful in discovering any further detail. All I can add is that Kikodze was one of a small handful Georgian artists sent to Paris (see my post on the Tbilisi avant-garde); he painted many scenes of the City of Lights, of which this is one.

City, by Shalva Kikodze. (1920).

City, by Shalva Kikodze. (1920).

And, finally, we can jump several decades to another Georgian, Lado Gudiashvili, who painted his ‘Blue Kiss‘ in (I think) the 1950s – please let me know if I’m wrong, or if you have any further information on this work.

Blue Kiss, by Lado Gudiashvili.

Blue Kiss, by Lado Gudiashvili.


[1] The Kiss, Fyodor Antonovich Moller.

[2] The Kiss, by V. P. Sazonov: Savitsky Picture Gallery, p. 62. Privolzhskoye publishing house. 1987.

[3] Ridiculed Kiss, by Galina Inovenkova. Vestnik Tsvetovoda, June 4, 2009.

[4] Twosome, page 5, by Yevgeniya Petrova, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, 2002.

[5] Fantasies of Flight, page 213, by Daniel Ogilvie. Oxford University Press, 2003.

[6] Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky, by Gennady Chugunov, 1984.

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