Specialist art movers will shortly return to Auckland Art Gallery for one of the toughest jobs in the gallery's history - safely moving The Kiss sculpture for the next leg of its journey.

Auguste Rodin's pentelican marble sculpture depicts adulterous lovers Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini and, at 3.18 tonnes, is the weightiest object ever shown at Auckland Art Gallery.

Exhibition designer Hannah Manning-Scott says before it could be installed, the gallery had to enlist a structural engineer to ensure its internal lifts and floors could sustain its weight.

It has been the centrepiece of The Body Laid Bare: Masterpieces from Tate exhibition which tells the story of the nude in Western art during the past two centuries and features more than 100 artworks including painting, sculpture and photography by artists like Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Louise Bourgeois and Cindy Sherman.


The exhibition closes on Sunday then travels to Seoul, the South Korean capital, meaning it cannot be extended. It is the first time the evocative sculpture has travelled outside of Europe.

Manning-Scott says moving involves using specialist equipment, such as a pallet jack capable of lifting its tonnage into a purpose-built wheeled crate which is then carefully manoeuvred by four movers through the gallery. It comes with a plinth designed to stand the sculpture upon and minimise the risk of damage to the floor beneath it.

Meanwhile, Auckland Art Gallery has announced its next feature exhibition - and it's another first.

The Corsini Collection: A Window on Renaissance Florence opens in September, showcasing work from the family's extensive private art collection. It is the first time the collection has toured outside Italy and the first Florentine private art collection to be shown in New Zealand.

It includes Renaissance and Baroque painting by artists such as Botticelli, Caravaggio, Andrea del Sarto and Pontormo. In addition to art, furniture, costumes, games, kitchen equipment and even a lavish dining room set for six feature to portray the life of the family and its centuries-old commitment to Florence and the arts.

Exhibition visitors described The Kiss as "perfection" but the sculpture hasn't always been so beloved; it's journey to public admiration has been a chequered one.

The first version of The Kiss, commissioned by the French Government, was displayed in 1898 and brought to the attention of American art collector Edward Perry Warren who commissioned Rodin to build a second one.

They quibbled about the price and how the two lovers should be depicted, but Warren eventually received his sculpture in 1904. Rather than taking pride of place in his Sussex home, Warren placed The Kiss in the stables where it remained for 10 years.

No one knows whether he stored it there because it was too big to fit through the doorway of Lewes House or because he decided he didn't like the work after all.

Its first public exhibition, at the Lewes Town Hall in 1914, prompted concerned citizens to rally against the sculpture because they feared it would inflame the passions of British soldiers in the area before they left for the Western Front. It was covered up and removed from public view.

Three years later, The Kiss returned to Warren's stables and, when he died in 1929, was put up for auction but failed to make the reserve price. Eventually, it was loaned to the Tate Gallery in London which bought the sculpture for £7500 in 1955.