It’s interesting to see not only portrait work at the hands of an artist but how those artists portray emotion through their work. This is why couples art shows hold so much potential. Not only does it offer the chance for truly compatible subjects but it also allows artists to portray complicated themes such as love and compassion as well as tragedy and heartbreak. These paintings of couples have earned their titles as masterpieces.
1. The Kiss, Gustav Klimt
The Kiss by Gustav Klimt is an iconic painting that has gained attention over the years. In today’s world, the painting is considered rather tame. However, when it was released in 1907-1908, it was considered borderline pornographic despite both figures being fully robed. This was likely partially in reaction to Klimt’s previous showcase that featured several paintings of naked women which were seen as particularly scandalous at the time.
Another interesting feature of this painting is Klimt’s use of gold flakes in the painting. This was actually a medium that Klimt used frequently for a period of time. The technique can be traced back to the time he spent metalworking with his brother and father as well as Klimt’s inspiration from mosaics and Byzantine art. The paintings that fell into this group are generally referred to as Klimt’s “Golden Phase.”
2. The Painter’s Honeymoon, Lord Frederick Leighton
The Painter’s Honeymoon was painted by Lord Frederick Leighton in 1864. It was actually an interesting choice for the artist because he typically favored Classical imagery and nude figures. Yet, the male figure in the painting is familiar to any fan of Leighton’s work because he was actually one of Leighton’s favorite models. Some critics have even pointed to the careful detail in the man’s features – especially his hands – to highlight his importance.
While the painting was completed in 1864, it wasn’t displayed until 1866. This actually wasn’t uncommon for Leighton who was well-known for being shy and generally coming off as less than confident in his talent. His reluctance is also often contributed to the emotional experience and personal nature of the painting. Today, the painting is considered a masterpiece and the original resides in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.
3. Le Sommeil, 1866, Gustave Courbet
Le Sommeil is an interesting painting completed in 1866 for a few reasons. For one, Gustave Courbet chose to display the two lovers naked and this, paired with their entwined pose, makes for an essentially erotic painting. The second and perhaps even more eye-catching twist is that the painting depicts a lesbian couple rather than a heterosexual one. The simple furnishings of the room don’t detract from the couple and the discarded hairpins and broken necklace nearby make the story of the painting clear.
This painting is fairly well-known now and also goes by the names Les Deux Amies (Two Friends) and Paresse et Luxure (Indolence and Lust). Yet, when the painting was completed in 1866, it was kept out of the public eye until 1988. In fact, when the painting commissioned by Halil Serif Pasa, a late-Ottoman art collector and diplomat, was released to the public, it inspired an influx of lesbian-themed paintings.
4. Romeo and Juliet I, Sir Thomas Francis Dicksee
Romeo and Juliet is perhaps one of the most famous love stories ever written and easily one of Shakespeare’s most widely consumed works. The story follows a pair of star-crossed lovers from a pair of feuding families. By the end of the story, Juliet fakes her death to escape the constraints of her family. Unfortunately, Romeo believes her death to be real and commits suicide. Upon waking and realizing this, Juliet follows in taking her own life.
Sir Thomas Francis Dicksee captured one fo the less tragic but more romantic scenes of the play. In it, Romeo sneaks onto Juliet’s balcony to confess his love to her away from the conflict of their families.
5. Love Among the Ruins, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones
Love Among the Ruins by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones is a painting with plenty of inspiration. On the surface, the painting calls on a poem of the same name by Robert Browning publishe in 1855 in his book Men and Women. In addition, the painting coincides with the ending of Burne-Jones’ affair with Maria Zambaco, a model he worked with frequently. After the breakup, Zambaco attempted to take her own life via laudanum overdose.
The tragedy, romance, and beauty captured in this painting are impressive and awe-inspiring. In later works, Burne-Jones would still use Maria’s likeness, often depicting her as a temptress or sorceress.
Romance is complicated. Luckily, complicated feelings often breed beautiful art. These five couples represent some of the best that the subject has to offer but there are plenty of other examples. By exploring this range, you can find everything from artists’ personal stories to popular stories and more.