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The Kiss

Constantin Brancusi, French (born Romania), 1876 - 1957

The embracing figures in The Kiss merge into a single form. Two eyes make the oval of a single eye, hairlines sweep into a continuous arch, and arms join to encircle the cubic block. The artist’s fourth version of the same theme, it exhibits the greatest formal unity. Brancusi recommended that it be displayed very simply on its own base, in line with his belief that, for sculpture, "it is the complete thing that counts."

The Kiss joined the collection of Walter and Louise Arensberg in 1932. At first, the Arensbergs displayed it on its own, set on top of a truncated beam, but by the mid-1940s they had placed it at the center of a low bench by Brancusi, and flanked it with six carved Pre-Columbian sculptures. That display strategy reflected the trend of looking to non-Western traditions for fresh and powerful artistic expression.


Object Details
Acquired from the artist by John Quinn (1870-1924), New York, 1916-until d. 1924; his estate, 1924-1926 [1]; sold through Joseph Brummer (dealer) to Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968), Paris, and Henri Pierre-Roché (1879-1959), Paris, by September 1926 [2]; sold to Louise Arensberg (1879-1953) and Walter C. Arensberg (1878-1954), Los Angeles, possibly 1932 [3]; gift to PMA, 1950. 1. Harris, Neil, and Judith Zilczer. "American Art Collecting: The Dispersal of the John Quinn Collection." Archives of American Art Journal 49, no. 1/2 (2010): 54-65. According to this article, “. . . the executors [of John Quinn’s will] authorized private sales of the collection to begin in 1926. Quinn’s friends Walter Pach and the art dealer Joseph Brummer advised and assisted the executors in conducting the sales.” One portion of Quinn’s collection was displayed in the New York Art Center, another was sold through two separate auctions in Paris and in New York, and some works were sold privately (including The Kiss).2. According to the article cited above, Roché and Duchamp acquired Quinn’s entire Brancusi collection with the financial assistance of Mary Harriman Rumsey (Mrs. Charles C. Rumsey) (1881-1934). They made the decision to purchase these works through Joseph Brummer on August 8, 1926. Duchamp requested Mrs. Rumsey’s share of the purchase cost on September 13, 1926 so that he could finish his payment to Brummer. Brancusi confirmed via telegram that the money was deposited on September 14, 1926. See Doïna Lemny, “Maurice/morice, histoire d’une amitié,” in Correspondance Brancusi-Duchamp: Histoire d’une amitié (Paris: Éditions Dilecta, 2017), pp. 7-19 and Paul B. Franklin, The Artist and His Critic Stripped Bare: The Correspondence of Marcel Duchamp and Robert Lebel (2016), p. 261, note 111. 3. Sale date based on Duchamp’s personal inventory of artworks that he sold to the Arensbergs, written on September 8, 1951 (PMA Archives, WLA Box 34, Folder 22). According to Lemny, Duchamp sold one of his Brancusi works whenever he needed money (“chaque fois qu’il aura besoin d’argent, Duchamp vendra un de ‹‹ses Brancusi››.”). It is possible, however, that Duchamp sold The Kiss to the Arensbergs after 1933. Correspondence between Duchamp and Walter Arensberg (PMA Archives, WLA Box 6, Folder 23) suggests that the Arensbergs lent only one work to the Brummer Gallery’s Brancusi exhibition in 1933 (November 17, 1933 – January 13, 1934), Prodigal Son (wood, cat. 57), yet The Kiss is also listed in the exhibition catalogue (stone, cat. 34). The credit line of Prodigal Son reads “Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Walter C. Arensberg,” whereas The Kiss has no credit line. It is not possible to determine if this version of The Kiss is the limestone version in the PMA’s collection. If it is the PMA’s version, the absence of a credit line suggests that The Kiss was still in Duchamp’s private collection until at least 1934.

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