(Germany 14 Apr 1868 – 27 Feb 1940)
27.2 x 21.6 cm image; 36.1 x 27.6 cm sheet
The kiss is a central image of Jugendstil, the German counterpart of Art Nouveau. This all-embracing style took its name from the magazine Jugend, founded in Munich in 1896, which espoused the new movement. In Berlin at the same time, the literary-artistic journal Pan was equally instrumental in promoting the Jugendstil aesthetic, and it was inside the magazine’s pages (vol iv, no 2, 1898) that this quintessential colour woodcut first appeared.
Much favoured by the Symbolists, the theme of kissing lovers was also famously treated by Edvard Munch and Gustav Klimt, to name but two succeeding examples. Behrens made this print during his early and most committed adherence to Jugendstil when he was set on becoming a painter and graphic artist. The simplification of the design into pure, flat patterns accentuates the motif of the kissing couple whose profiles are framed by trademark ‘whiplash’ curves formed by their voluptuous tresses. The sensuous interweaving of hair not only conveys the intensity of the lovers’ abandonment in each other but also seems to suggest the ancient understanding of the kiss as an intermixing and exchanging of souls. The gender ambiguity of the couple adds further to the fascination of the image. Certainly there was a prevalence of androgynous figures represented in literary and artistic works during the fin-de-siècle, exalted for their supposedly higher artistic and spiritual sensitivities.
Like other leading Jugendstil artists, Behrens was remarkably versatile, designing glassware, jewellery, furniture, wallpaper, typefaces and theatre sets. However, by the first decade of the new century he had cast off the vestiges of his youthful style and architecture became his main vocation, counting among his pupils the modernists Walter Gropius and Le Corbusier.
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Sydney, 1986. cat.no. 207
Christine Dixon, Secession: Modern art and design in Austria and Germany 1890s-1920s, 'New German Secessions: Berlin and elsewhere', pg 13-21, Canberra, 2000, 17. no catalogue numbers
Nicholas Draffin, Prints in Germany 1880-1940, 'Prints in Germany 1880-1940 - Prints in the permanent collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 2, Sydney South, 1989, 2, 3. no catalogue numbers
Renée Free, Fin de Siècle, Sydney, Jan 1994. no catalogue numbers
The edge of the world, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 05 Jul 1985–25 Aug 1985
Five years on: a selection of acquisitions 1981-1986, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 26 Sep 1986–23 Nov 1986
Prints in Germany 1880-1940, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 28 Oct 1989–07 Jan 1990
Fin de Siècle: posters prints drawings from the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 15 Jan 1994–13 Mar 1994
Secession: Modern art and design in Austria and Germany 1980s-1920s, National Gallery of Australia, Parkes, 06 May 2000–06 Aug 2000
European prints and drawings 1500-1900, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 30 Aug 2014–02 Nov 2014