The Many Sides of Love

Paintings whose vibrant subjects tell us their stories of love, lust, and loss

By Google Arts & Culture

Garden with Courting Couples: Square Saint-Pierre (May 1887) by Vincent van GoghVan Gogh Museum

Whether stories of passion, heartbreak, infidelity, or lasting love, paintings give us back an image of our deepest desires. Let's take a look at a few...

GaliléE Hervé Ndoma - Central African Maternal Love (2015) by GaliléE Hervé NdomaImago Mundi

Love is nuturing

Maternal love has been depicted for millenium in every artistic movement and style. Ranging from religious art to portrait art, mother and child have always held a firm role on canvas. This depiction of mother and child is no exception. Galilée Hervé Ndoma wonderfully captures the essence of love through the eyes of mother and child.

Céfiro and Flora, couple in a garden (1894/1896) by Cecilio PlaMuseo de Cádiz

Love is mystery

Love, for all its wonder, can often leave us feeling misunderstood. Such seems to be the case with this couple, shown here in a painting by Spanish artist Cecilio Pla (Valencia, 1859 - Madrid, 1934). Originally trained as a musician, Pla was clearly adept at depicting the delicate dance of love. Though initially drawn to history painting, Pla’s work from this period often displays realistic scenes with a social message. The message here seems to boil down to this: “Love is hard!”

Two Women Embracing (1915) by Egon SchieleMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Love is passion

In this painting by Austrian Expressionist Egon Schiele, two female lovers are entwined with their display of affection. At the time of this painting (1915), Schiele had just married Edith Harms, so love and lovers were much on his mind. In addition, lesbianism was a frequent subject in his work of the period, and displays of what would have been considered at the time “deviant” sexuality reflected the decadence of the Viennese social milieu.

Double portrait of Marie and P.S. Krøyer. The couple have portrayed one another (1890) by Marie KrøyerSkagens Museum

Love is intense

The story behind this painting is one of true love and collaboration—in both life and art! These Danish painters met in Paris in 1889, with the older painter, Peder Severin Kroyer, falling instantly in love with the beguiling young Marie. They married shortly thereafter and honeymooned in Italy, visiting the town of Ravello, where this portrait was likely painted.

The Ill-matched Couple (ca. 1520–1522) by Lucas Cranach the ElderMuseum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Love is blind

At first glance, this appears to be an ordinary portrait of an odd couple with an age gap and nothing more. But look closely at this painting, and you’ll notice something strange: the much older, nearly-toothless woman appears to be slipping some coins into the young man’s hand—he’s a gigolo! This is part of a series of moralistic portraits by 16th-century German Renaissance painter, Louis Cranach the Elder, all testifying to the fact (while also clearly condemning it) that, perhaps, “Money can buy love.”

Brother and Sister (Circa 1915) by Edward H. Potthast (American, b.1857, d.1927)Cincinnati Art Museum

Love is playful

It can be considered one of the greatest loves of all, that between siblings. It is a love that begins at birth and grows with time. This depiction of a brother and sister paddling their feet by the shore is typical of Edward Henry Potthast whose Impressionist paintings who was known to capture every day moments of people at play. This oil on canvas painting gives us a brief glimpse into an eternal bond.

Kiss IV (1902) by Edvard MunchThe Munch Museum, Oslo

Love is privacy

Lovers have long been famous for being so smitten that they “only have eyes for each other.” In this modern woodcut from 1902 by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944), for the lovers shown here, no one else exists. Most famous for his 1893 painting of existential despair and alienation titled The Scream, this woodcut is part of a series of four completed between 1897-1902 that appear to show the opposite of such isolation, focusing instead on connection and mutually-expressed desire.

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