The Top 10 Most Romantic Paintings of All Time
This post was originally published in January 2021. It has been updated and republished in February 2022.
Ah, Valentine’s Day… For many, the celebration of love is a welcome prelude to the fresh beginning of spring. But love is complex, and for every joyous union and happy ending, there is pain and angst. The following is our top 10 list of the most powerful depictions of love that artists can render. From the festive celebration of A Dance in the Country to the dark brooding of The Kiss, these artists pour their hearts out to provide us with their unique and powerful perspective on love.
#10. Kiss with Honda
An instant classic from the late 1980s, Kiss with Honda beautifully encapsulates an era that reminds us of our youth. Canadian artist Alex Colville conjures the era of pop icons like Clint Eastwood and Whitney Houston while reminding us of a simpler time before cell phones and the internet. A time when gas was cheap and a farewell kiss truly meant “until we meet again.”
The image of that one last peck through the window of a hatchback Civic reminds us of the beautiful juxtaposition of endings and beginnings, as two lovers say goodbye before one embarks on a new journey. It’s been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. In this piece, Colville has given us a glimpse into a love story for the ages.
#9. A Dance in the Country
A Dance in the Country is the first of a series of three paintings depicting dance in the late 19th century. The discarded hat and nearby table suggest a level of spontaneity in the dance, which depicts Renoir’s future wife with a rare smile.
A pioneer in the impressionist style, Renoir vividly captures the joy and frivolity of dance that was common entertainment among the middle class in the late 1800s. This portrayal was a marked change from the more somber colors of European art and an homage to the seamstress who would serve as Renoir’s muse, wife, and lover.
#8. Lovers at the Palace Theater, WeegeeThis photograph from post-World War II New York is perhaps one of the most unique and complex pieces of art created by Weegee. 3D films had only recently come onto the film scene, and were only available in black and white. The historic Palace Theater on Broadway in Manhattan served first as a vaudeville theater before transitioning to a film venue.
The young lovers in the photo are illuminated by flash photography, which must have been quite startling for moviegoers, one of whom seems to be looking directly at Weegee. Lovers at the Palace Theater conjures memories of youthful desire, as the passionate kiss is stolen during the movie with a literal audience surrounding the couple.
Known for his regionalist paintings and murals, Thomas Hart Benton beautifully captures the simplicity and tranquility of midwestern life in his icon Romance. This portrayal of a depression-era couple on an evening stroll highlights the simple things that are so very cherished in any relationship.
From the bare feet and rolled cuffs to the swaying arms locked in synchrony by held hands, one can imagine the conversation that may have taken place between two lovers at the end of a long day. These are the images that so vibrantly mark relationships throughout the ages and, like Benton’s work, stand the test of time.
Another impressionist classic by Renoir, Lovers depicts an intimate moment in a quiet garden between two lovers. Renoir’s favorite model, Henriette Henriot appears in a number of his paintings. Biographers have said that Renoir was inspired in the presence of women, a fact readily apparent in his work. While the male suitor in Lovers is totally enamored with his partner, the woman herself is the focal point of the piece, seemingly staring directly at Renoir and, so too, the observer of the painting.
#5. The Kiss, Edvard Munch
At the turn of the 19th century, Edvard Munch was creating an exhibition titled “The Frieze of Life”. Themes in this series included sex, love, death, anxiety, infidelity, and jealousy. Perhaps the most unique feature of this painting is the way the two lovers’ faces become one.
According to historian Reinhold Heller, the art represents unity as well as a “loss of individuality, a loss of one’s own existence and identity.” The dim, gloomy colors and haunting faceless characters accentuate the darker side of love and romance.
#4. The Arnolfini Portrait
The oldest painting on this list, The Arnolfini Portrait was created in 1434 and is actually a double portrait. Some historians believe that this painting may have been a form of marriage contract, depicting Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife.
One interesting characteristic of this particular piece is the use of a looking glass in the background. Looking closely, you can see that Jan van Eyck shows the couple from behind, with a third person standing precisely where viewers would be while admiring the piece. This unique first-person perspective on the Italian couple is unique and was ahead of its time.
#3. The Birthday
In 1915, artist Marc Chagall painted The Birthday after a visit from his fiance, Bella Rosenfeld. After leaving her in Russia to pursue his artistic career, Chagall and Bella were reunited just as World War I began. As a poor artist, Chagall was considered an inferior match by his fiance’s wealthy parents.
But their love for one another was strong, as represented by the joy in this painting. The two lovers are literally floating above the ground as they kiss. As Jewish people living through the rise and fall of the Nazi regime, their love, like this painting, proved that it could stand the test of time.
#2. Diego on My Mind
In this painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, the expression “having you on my mind” takes on a more literal meaning. The work is a self portrait, featuring an image of fellow artist Diego Rivera directly on her forehead. But their love story was not destined for a happy ending.
She began the painting after the two lovers were divorced, expressing her desire for him despite his repeated affairs and betrayals. The traditional Mexican Tehuana was allegedly Rivera’s favorite, and the haunting, longing eyes that Kahlo attributed to herself remind us of the scars that love can leave behind.
#1. The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
At an astounding six feet tall, Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss stands in stark contrast to Munch’s original work. Created 10 years after the brooding depiction of love and turmoil, Klimt’s portrayal is a bright mosaic of beauty, with the faces of the two lovers distinct and detailed.
The bright gold color palette combines to join the two lovers into one while still highlighting their unique features. The work is massive, beautiful, highly erotic, and by far his most celebrated work.
Bonus Prints We Love
Heart Cakes (Valentine Cakes, Four Valentine Cakes)
Wayne Thiebaud often manages to appeal to our sweet tooth and Heart Cakes is no exception. Known for his paintings of sweet treats and delicious delectables, Heart Cakes is the perfect piece to say Happy Valentine’s Day. Want more Thiebaud? We do too! Here’s how you can celebrate 100 years of Wayne Thiebaud >> (yes he turned 100 in 2020 and is still painting!)
Il Bacio (The Kiss)
Tonight I Leaned Across 10,000 Miles and Kissed You Print
This World War II postcard of a WWII soldier and his sweetheart kissing in the clouds was used in an ad campaign by Gruen Watch Company in 1942. Despite being designed to sell wristwatches, we think it’s sweet 😉
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