Art has long played a part in love stories and sagas. It’s role in the declaration of feelings has been poignant through centuries of romances. Luckily for us, the pieces created as a result of these sometimes epic and sometimes illicit relationships leave us with tales to get lost in. Here are some of my favourite artworks borne from romance in art history..
Jean – Honoré Fragonard, ‘The Swing’ (c. 1767)
Commissioned by a French Courtier for his mistress, the scoundrel had originally asked for the lady on the swing to be pushed by a bishop. Fragonard ignored this request and used a layman instead. The piece is thought to be the greatest example of Rococo painting. So, if you can ignore the ever so seedy background to the commission it’s worth a closer look.
Image Source: The Wallace Collection
Sir William Ross, ‘Queen Victoria’ (1839)
Arguably one of the greatest royal love stories of all time, Victoria and Albert began to gift art to each other from the time they got engaged and continued the tradition right through their long marriage. This portrait was Victoria’s gift to her new husband on their wedding day. She is said to be wearing a locket containing a lock of the Prince’s hair.
Image source: Royal Collection Trust
Sir John Everett Millais, ‘The Order of Release 1746’ (1852-3)
The typical Victorian romantic tragedy of this piece isn’t why I have included it here. The model, Effie Gray, that posed for the wife of the released soldier in the painting was, soon after this, to leave her husband and Pre-Raphaelite champion John Ruskin for Millais ,resulting in the greatest romantic scandal of the era. Love Island eat your heart out!
Image source: Tate Britain
William Burton, ‘The Meeting on the Turret Stairs’ (1864)
An old favourite of Irish romantics this beauty from our national collection tells of the moment a heartbroken Hellelil says a final goodbye to her lover Hilderbrand before he is put to death by order of her father who disapproved of the union. The fleeting meeting of the two captures so much emotion it’s enough to tug even the toughest heartstrings
Image source: National Gallery of Ireland
Tracy Emin, ‘I Want My Time With You’ (2018)
This neon installation in St Pancras station in London makes me think of the glorious reunions and long goodbyes of the couples parted by distance at the train station. It is, in fact, according to Emin a love letter of sorts to Europe and is her response to the exit of Britain from the EU. Not so romantic a piece if you look at it that way, perhaps, but that’s the wonderful thing about art. You can always choose your own interpretation.
Image Source: Nick Fewings
Valentine’s day can seem like a plastic holiday ,pedaled as a money making trick but it is a lovely opportunity in our busy lives to take the time to tell someone special what they mean to us. Granted, you don’t have to commission a huge overwrought painting but you could choose to create your own or purchase a piece from your significant other’s favourite artist.