Five works of art about love

  • 15 November 2016

Love has always been one of the greatest inspirations for art. We take a look back at some of the works Art Fund have helped to buy that deal with this most powerful of emotions.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca, 1885

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca, 1885

Share the love

Take part in dating website eHarmony's Love Captured photo competition, where you could win £1000 by submitting a picture that shows what love means to you. For every entry they receive, we get 50p. Hurry, you only have until 30 November.


Rodin, The Kiss, 1901-04

Perhaps one of Rodin’s most famous works, The Kiss shows us the adulterous lovers Francesca and Paolo, who appear in Dante’s Inferno. Their love grew after reading the tale of Lancelot and Guinevere, but their passionate affair only led to tragedy. They were killed by Francesca’s jealous husband. There are three full-sized versions, the third of which was acquired by Tate in 1953 with our support. In 2015 the sculpture was lent to The Whitworth in Manchester and bound in string by artist Cornelia Parker, so bringing the two lovers even closer together.


William Hogarth, Before and After, c1730

These two oil paintings by Hogarth depict a lusty couple before and after a spot of pastoral lovemaking. In the first, we see the young woman shyly protesting at her lover’s advances. But notice the apples tumbling from her apron, suggesting Eve’s fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. In the second, the pair are dishevelled, their clothes half undone, their faces reddened by passion. For the period, the paintings show a marked frankness when it comes to sex, which may even surprise us today. Bequeathed by AJ Hugh Smith through the Art Fund in 1964, both can be seen at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.


Diego Velazquez, The Toilet of Venus, 1647-51

This early 17th century work shows Venus, the goddess of love and a personification of female beauty, with her son Cupid, who holds a mirror that reflects her unseen face back to the viewer, giving it a decidedly provocative quality that speaks of sensuality, desire and voyeurism. This world-famous painting is the only surviving female nude by Velazquez, and can be seen in the National Gallery in London. It was acquired with our assistance back in 1906 and caused quite a stir.


Sam Taylor-Johnson, Self-Portrait in a Single Breasted Suit with Hare, 2001

Okay, this one might not be so obvious, but Taylor-Johnson’s strangely provocative work is a celebration of love and loving in the face of mortality. It was made shortly after she had recovered from cancer, and refers to the use of the hare to represent lust in Renaissance and Baroque art. In this way, it marks the a determination to hold on to a love and passion for life regardless of what’s thrown at her. It was acquired with our help in 2002 and now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery in London.


Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Paolo and Francesca, 1855

Finally, it’s those two again. The famed lovers of literary legend Paolo and Francesca, this time as depicted by Rossetti. On the left we see the pair embrace in life, in the middle we seen Dante and Virgil who stare across at the lovers floating, still entwined, through the underworld and a background of fiery tongues. Although painted in 1855, the painting adopts a medieval aesthetic suitable to its subject. You can take a closer look at the Tate Britain in London, where the picture now hangs after being purchased with our help back in 1916.