Peter Behrens - The Kiss

by Frauke Maria Petry


Two faces are united in a kiss on a blue-green background. The clear contours of nose, mouth and chin merge overlapping. In crisp, clean lines, the profiles become closed planar forms in tense repose. Their delicate touch evokes a temporal, lingering duration. This motionlessness is heightened by the thick red and orange bands of lines in the hair. Ornamentally, they wind around the faces, creating a decorative frame. The color change from light to dark increases the rhythm of the surfaces. The picture surface is completed by a wide, dark red frame made of a simple line.

The kiss is a popular theme in 19th-century visual art and is often interpreted as a phenomenon of a love relationship between man and woman coming to fruition.

But in Behrens' work, no biological genders can be assigned to the figures. Moreover, the kiss does not exhibit a tension between love and suffering, but corresponds to a tender, erotic sensation. Reduced to the essential, the lips in the kiss meet with a formal certainty. External actions and emotional reactions are dispensed with in the depiction, so that the decorative pictorial structure becomes a poetic-aesthetic element. The linear, austere profiles contrast with the softly flowing paths of the frame. The subject matter formally moves to the center of the painting.


Peter Behrens (1868-1940) studied in Karlsruhe as well as Düsseldorf and later worked in Munich as a painter and book setter. He is one of the most important representatives of the Munich Art Nouveau. From 1898 he devoted himself primarily to the technique of woodcut. The color woodcut 'The Kiss' was published in the same year for the first time in the magazine 'Pan' (issue 2). In the center of the frame there is the monogram 'BP' at the bottom left. Through journalistic marketing it is one of the most famous works of Peter Behrens and directly connected with Art Nouveau. In addition, the sheet influenced art modeled on Japanese woodblock prints.


Peter Behrens - The Kiss

from "PAN", issue 2, 1898, woodcut, 1898, 27.2 x 21.4 cm, Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf

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