Love in Art – Our 10 favourite paintings

“Art is the activity by which a person, having experienced an emotion, intentionally transmits it to others” – Leo Tolstoy

Whilst the importance of art is a topic on its own, in this article we will reflect upon our favourite paintings that depict love. Here they are, in no particular order:

1.    Marc Chagall – Birthday (1915)

‘’Spurts of red, blue, white, black. Suddenly you tear me from the earth, you yourself take off from one foot. You rise, you stretch your limbs, you float up to the ceiling. You head turns about and you make mine turn. You brush my ear and murmur.’’

On 25 July 1915, Chagall married Bella, a lady from socially superior family strongly disapproving of their relationship.  During this time Chagall’s art concerned itself above all with their relationship. He said:‘Ihad only to open my window, and blue air, love and flowers entered with her. Dressed all in white or in black, she has long been flying over my canvases guiding my art.’

Equally enthusiastic are Bella’s own memoirs; she recalls how she had a great difficulty but eventually managed to find out Marc’s date of birth. On that very day she paid him a visit, bringing him food and flowers whilst wearing huge shawls that draped around the room. Chagall began to paint and the resulting artwork only gives us a testimony to the extraordinary self-sufficiency of their partnership – a partnership equally delightful after a century of the artwork’s creation. This painting powerfully captures the feeling of euphoria experienced among lovers in an ordinary setting – every inch of canvas radiates love and happiness. 

The vibrancy of colours of The Birthday perfectly reflects Chagall’s emotions for Bella.In actual fact, Chagall referred to love as the main source of all colour within his paintings.

2.    Gustav Klimt – The Kiss (1907)

This is probably the most well-known one of all the artworks we listed here. Love and art simply go hand in hand with Klimt’s masterpiece The Kiss. This painting shows a couple kneeling in a grassy patch of flowers. With a vine crown on his head and dressed in a geometrically printed robe, the man leans to kiss the woman’s face whilst cradling it. The woman on the other hand wears a dress consisting of organic, colourful patterns. She lovingly wraps her arms around the man’s neck while her eyes are peacefully closed – a scene depicting intimacy and tranquillity only two lovers are capable of feeling. This Klimt’s piece is somewhat of an archetype of passion. The couple seems to be in an indestructible embrace. However, they also appear to be on the edge of an abyss which might represent a threat to every existing love out there.  

3.    René Magritte - The Lovers II (1928)

Frustrated desires are a very common theme in Magritte’s works and this painting in our interpretation represents exactly that. Magritte depicts two lovers whose intimate embrace is prevented by fabric wrapped around their heads – a barrier leading to isolation and frustration. The characters cannot truly feel or even see each other. Some say this painting illustrates the inability to fully unveil ourselves, even among those who are as close as two lovers can get. Despite being very close, the two figures still keep something of themselves hidden from the other. However, the artist intention will probably remain a mystery:

 “My painting is visible images which conceal nothing,”Magritte said, “they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, ‘What does it mean?’ It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable.”

4.    Gustav Klimt – Love (1895)

At a first glance, this painting stylistically has little in common with Klimt’s well known pieces and we were quite surprised to find out this is actually his work. However, the artist’s interest in capturing and exploring love is equally conveyed in this painting. Unlike The Kiss, the context in this painting was broadened and includes a wider picture of the world. The two lovers are centrally positioned, almost like actors on a stage, and are being observed by heads that are thought to personify youth, old age and death – inevitabilities of life and love. 

5.    Claude Monet – Camille Monet on Her Deathbed (1879)

Monet played with colour and light in a way no one had ever seen before; he embraced the fluidity of the world around him en plein air (outside) and used broad, unrestrained brushstrokes not only to create the composition of a landscape, but to instil in it a sense of true feeling.” Says MaryFrances Knapp.

However, his fame and success might have been questionable without his muse which also happened to be his wife Camille Doncieux (1847–1879). “Camille Monet sur son lit de mort,” or “Camille on Her Deathbed” might be the most powerful Monet’s painting of his wife, certainly the most moving one for me; it captures the strength and tenderness of love between Monet and Camille. Close to the end of her life, Camille suffered from dyspepsia and many other health complications that came after the birth of her children. She died when she was only 32, however still continued to inspire Monet. Immense grief almost screams through this complex piece of art.  

6.    Pierre Auguste Cot – Springtime (1873)

We must admit this is simply our favourite painting of all time.

 “A beautiful young maiden hangs from her lover's neck, coquettish and devoted. She smiles warmly to meet his protective gaze. The two are seated on a swing, hanging on heavy ropes suspended from unseen branches in a thick forest bathed with glowing primordial light. Her gown, diaphanous and white, more than slightly reveals her perfect sensual form. His arms hold tightly to the ropes that support the swing. “

Springtime is arguably one of the best paintings capturing the beginning of a romantic romance. Seeing this painting evokes butterflies in your stomach and makes you feeling love-struck – emotional states worth living for. 

7.    Sandro Botticelli –Venus and Mars (1485)

We all know the Roman myth of Venus and Mars. The goddess of Love has a passionate affair with Mars, the God of War. Botticelli’s painting shows us a couple surrounded by playful baby satyrs in a forest setting. Mars is sleeping, Venus is watching him, two satyrs are playing, and another is resting under his arm, whilst the fourth satyr is blowing in his ear in order to wake him up. Clearly, Venus and Mars have been making love and Mars submitted to the “little death”, the male habit of falling asleep after sex. Love conquers war. 

8.    Roy Lichtenstein – We rose up slowly (1964)

“We rose up slowly… as if we didn’t belong to the outside world any longer… like swimmers in a shadowy dream… who didn’t need to breathe”

We believe that the caption included in the painting makes it self-explanatory, Laura Barnett of The Guardian said that the painting show "two all-American archetypes — a handsome man, a luscious blonde — in a steamy embrace. "In Lichtenstein’s interpretations, it depicts the sentimentality of a young romance. 

9.    Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec – In Bed (1893)

Le Lit ("The Bed") (also known as Dans le lit, "In bed") is one of four similar paintings that show two women sharing a bed -often interpreted as lesbian couples. However, it should be noted that the artist became fascinated by Paris’ night life, particularly when it comes to prostitutes. During that time, he spent his days observing and painting residents and visitors of a brothel, be it during busy or quiet moments. Whilst some might disagree that this painting has anything to do with love, we believe it captures those unique and often intimate moments we all experience when sharing a bed with someone. 

10.  Marc Chagall -The Walk (1918)

“Love gives wings” they say and we agree. There is a particular feeling of lightness that comes alongside love. When we are in love, we feel like our bodies are floating in the air enjoying the moment despite the potential dangers. A light wind could carry us somewhere beyond the horizon, yet we could not care less, we only want to live in the present moment, and we want it forever. In the same way my verbal description of this feeling is an attempt to transfer the essence of this state to you, Chagall’s The Walkis a visual equivalent of it (probably far more successful!). The faces of the lovers are radiating happiness and love – with a smile from ear to ear, the artist hold his wife who hovers in the air only waiting for her partner to fly with her.