The sweetest kisses and embraces in the history of art.
Of all the emotions and passions that inspire art, love is by far the strongest one. Throughout the history of art, we’ve seen it depicted in different ways and through different lenses. The majority of artistic representations of love show images full of sensuality and eroticism. But what about that pure-hearted love, that fills our hearts and makes us feel like we're floating? The next seven paintings show this perspective, which can actually move us in a deeper way and inspire us to look for a more realistic and emotional ideal of love.
Dance in the Country (1883) - Pierre-Auguste Renoir
In this particular painting that’s part of a double painting project, Renoir presents a couple dancing happily at an outdoor party of sorts. The elements in the painting, like the hat on the floor, give us the impression that the man is absolutely enthralled by his partner, to the point that he doesn’t really care about anything else, while the woman is looking directly at us, showing us the happiness of spending time and having fun with this person that she clearly cares about a lot.
Well, at least, that's the story that the painting communicates, but actually, the woman in the painting is Aline Charigot, who later became Renoir’s wife, while the gentleman was inspired by Paul Lhôthe, one of his closest friends. Renoir and Charigot met at Montmartre, and he was so amazed by her beauty that he asked her to become his model. Ten years later, they got married, and they lived together until her death twenty-five years later. She appears in about twenty paintings of his, including this one, and it looks like even though they weren’t a couple yet, he wanted to highlight the beauty that had captivated him.
Chez le père Lathuille (1879)- Édouard Manet
Considered to be one of the main precursors of Impressionism, and the artist who marked the beginning of modern art, Manet liked painting both highly controversial works, and normal, everyday scenes. In this one, there's a couple on what seems like a date, and the man is adoringly giving his undivided attention to every detail of the conversation and her beauty. The models for the painting were Louis Gauthier Lathuille, the restaurant owner's son, Ellen Andrée (during the first sessions), and Mile French.
Although there wasn’t any apparent relationship between them and the characters of the painting, this is a very emotional scene that depicts those moments we all experience when going out with a person we love. Just look at the man’s eyes, he’s mesmerized by this girl, while she’s obviously more cautious and keeping her distance. Still, judging by her body language, it doesn’t really look like she's uncomfortable or doesn't like him, since she’s leaning a little bit towards him, and her hands are close to him. It all looks like the beginning of a great love story.
The Honeysuckle Bower (c. 1609) - Peter Paul Rubens
Rubens made this honeymoon portrait of himself and his new bride, Isabella Brant. The painting's name is quite literal because the couple is posing together in front of a honeysuckle tree, and the garden is meant to symbolize love and prosperity. The painting also portrays the sense of happiness and wellbeing of the newly married couple, which was the fashionable thing to do back then. Their holding hands was a common symbol of marriage, while their attire, and Ruben’s left hand holding his sword was meant to show that they were of a high social status.
What's interesting is that, even though the painting has all the symbolic formality of paintings of the time, their serene body language (especially his) and their facial expressions show the happiness of the couple starting a new chapter in their relationship and showing that they were very much in love, in contrast to the stiff marriage portraits of arranged marriages.
The Kiss (1907-8) - Gustav Klimt
This is probably one of the most famous paintings in modern art, and Klimt’s most popular. Unlike his other paintings, which only feature women, in this one, he decided to portray a loving couple in an endless embrace. Art historians like to believe that this was actually a portrait of Klimt and his long-time partner Emilie Flöge, but there’s no evidence to prove it. The only thing we can be sure of here is that he wished to immortalize his love for her in a painting.
What makes this painting such a renowned masterpiece is not only his vibrant use of color and unique style, but also the emotions conveyed in it. The serenity of her face and her hands in an urgent desire to never break that embrace, while he is completely in the moment not caring to look anywhere else. However, other art historians tend to differ with this particular interpretation and suggest that the painting was, in fact, a representation of the myth of Apollo and Daphne where they were hit by Cupid’s arrows, one making Apollo fall madly in love with Daphne, while she hated him intensely. I, personally, like the first interpretation more.
The Birthday (1915) - Marc Chagall
Another artist who celebrated their loved ones through immortal artworks is Marc Chagall who gave a very special birthday gift to his beloved wife, Bella Rosenfeld. This is probably one of my favorites from this list not only because it has a very different style from the other ones, but because it’s a playful demonstration of love, showing us that relationships aren’t only about serious, intense love, but they're also filled with fun, everyday details that make us fall for that person more and more each day.
The painting has been interpreted as the kind of transcendent love that goes beyond the laws of gravity and physics, making us feel invincible or immortal even, capable of achieving anything we want. Moreover, it's an intimate representation of everyday love and affection in a couple that doesn't need too many material things to be happy because having each other is all they need.
In Bed: The Kiss (1892) - Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Toulouse-Lautrec was known for his paintings about the world of dancers and prostitutes of the Belle Époque. What’s interesting about his work is the point of view from which he regarded these characters. Far from doing so with a judgmental perspective, Lautrec represented them as what they actually were: normal people just like everybody else, which of course led to a huge controversy at the time. In Bed: The Kiss is a great example of how he sought to show everyday people, and what is considered to be one of the most beautiful kisses in the history of art.
In the painting, we see two women in a sweet embrace, lying in bed. For Lautrec, this was "the very epitome of sensual delight." However, leaving aside for one moment the sensuality of this intimate scene, for me, it’s more of a portrayal of tenderness between two people who clearly love each other very much.
The Kiss (1897) - Edvard Munch
To round up the list, let's take a look at a painting by an artist who became a master at depicting the darkest emotions of humanity. Munch is well-known for his paintings about melancholia and despair, and this one, is no exception. However, here he created a very interesting mix of emotions that show the many layers and colors of love. This couple merging as one while kissing can melt our hearts, but thanks to the composition and the dark colors, it produces in the viewer a strange sensation.
On the one hand, the distorted faces speak of an immense love that can’t be easily broken, and together with the layered halo surrounding them, it makes us think of an endless love. However, as art historians have taken from this, what Munch is really showing with this painting is that idea of love taking everything from us, even your identity, to the point that you and your partner end up being the same strange being. Everything about this couple is dark while we can see that outside their bubble there’s a bright world they refuse to see, which, when you think about it, is a beautiful and striking approach to love far from common representations.
These paintings show really beautiful depictions of love, but as you were able to see, they mainly focus on those everyday moments we share with our partner that enrich our relationship, reminding us that the secret to a great love is really hidden in the little details.
Take a look at these other paintings: