Love (in life, as in art) covers the full range of emotions, from the spiritual to the sleazy, provocative to the profound. But what better conveys true love, than true love’s kiss?
Whether it’s fine art, literature film or movies, there have been some momentous kisses that truly left their mark on history. Who doesn’t recognize the infamous V-J Day sailor’s kiss, the tragedy of Romeo’s “blushing pilgrim” lips meeting Juliet’s or the golden ecstasy of Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss painting?
Even a single artwork can express the whole gamut of these passions. For instance, Rodin once pejoratively described his amorous magnum opus The Kiss as a “sculpted knick-knack following the usual formula”. Whilst it has since become one of the most popular romantic sculptures of all time, few know it actually presents adulterous lovers’ moments before their death at the hands of the woman’s outraged husband!
Whether you’re celebrating your own true love or simply reveling in beautiful artwork, learn more about the history behind Valentine’s Day as well as the most famous romantic paintings and charismatic kisses of all time.
The history behind Valentine’s Day
Occurring every year on 14 February, Valentine’s Day celebrates the life and work of Saint Valentine. Whilst its early origins are shrouded in mystery, it’s a date with roots in both Christian and ancient Roman mythology.
There are several St. Valentines, all of whom were martyred. One St Valentine (living around A.D. 200) went against a decree made by Roman Emperor Claudius II, forbidding marriages amongst soldiers. As a priest, Valentine ignored the unjust dictum and continued performing weddings in secret. Beheaded for his actions, Valentine’s defense of true love became the stuff of popular legend.
Another St Valentine helped Christians escape torture and imprisonment by the Romans. During his own incarceration, he wrote the first ever Valentine’s card. This was to the jailor’s daughter who visited and showed him kindness. Before his execution, the last letter simply signed-off “From your Valentine” – an expression remaining in use today.
Whilst the truth behind these stories is uncertain, they highlight Valentine’s appeal as a romantic, heroic figure. In an effort to “Christianize” the memorialization of his death, it’s thought the Christian Church linked it with the pre-existing Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia.
Despite these early roots, Valentine’s Day, as we know it, didn’t really become popular until the early 1900s with the mass production of holiday cards and gifts. The very first valentine’s card dates to 1415 however, sent from the imprisoned Duke of Orléans to his wife.
The 7 most famous kisses in art history
If you’re looking for romantic gifts for your partner this Valentine’s Day, why not go down the artistic route? As the gateway to the soul, art allows us to express fundamental emotions and enliven the imagination. With our unparalleled collection of oil painting reproductions, you can choose from the greatest museum masterpieces of all time, for a declaration of love like no other.
For a little inspiration, here are seven famous romantic paintings – all depicting the most amorous of artistic kisses.
1. Francesco Hayez, The Kiss (1859)
Known as “Il Bacio” in Italian, Francesco Hayez’ The Kiss depicts a truly sensual embrace. Providing the viewer with a glimpse into an otherwise secret moment, it presents classic Italian passion. The medieval setting and sumptuous dress transport the viewer deeper into a world of courtly romance and scandal.
Despite this simple interpretation however, all is not as it seems… The shadowy figure in the background hints at troubles to come.
Painted during the violent repression of the Italian nationalist movement, Francesco Hayez avoided censorship with a metaphoric take on patriotic themes. Commissioned by Count Alfonso Maria Visconti of Saliceto (a well-known Milanese patriot), the couple represent ideals of conspiracy, bravery and “true” Italians.
2. Charles Auguste Emile Durand (Carolus-Duran), The Kiss (1868)
As a leading French painter and art educator, Carolus-Duran painted the most esteemed members of nineteenth century high-society. Himself a student of Jacques Louis David, classical themes are imbued throughout his elegant creations.
As well as this early inspiration, the influence of French realism and the renaissance master Diego Velázquez are visible in Carolus-Duran’s The Kiss. It’s unusual amongst his oeuvre, for the way the two figures unabashedly dominate the pictorial space.
What’s more, few know that Le Baiser actually represents Carolus-Duran himself. He passionately kisses his new wife, shortly after their marriage. This was Pauline Croizette, an artist known for her pastel works and miniatures. The floral bouquet is carelessly tossed aside in a moment of passion, with Croizette’s crimson sash further emphasizes the sensualism of the scene.
3. Edvard Munch, The Kiss by the Window (1892)
Painted in 1892, The Kiss by the Window is an oil on canvas artwork by the Norwegian symbolist Edvard Munch. Better known as the genius behind the existential angst of The Scream, few associate Munch as a romantic artist.
In this painting, the couple romantically kiss beside a large window, looking out onto a moonlit street. The curtains billow in the breeze whilst unaware passers-by flit past. Forming part of The Frieze of Life series, this kiss is just part of the cycle of life and love.
Other Munch artworks in the series (produced between 1893 and 1918) treat death and love as part of one holistic story. The faces often meld into one another, symbolically fusing and merging to represent the unity of two souls.
4. Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec, In Bed, The Kiss (c.1892)
As an artist fully immersed in the color and romance of late nineteenth century Paris, Henri De Toulouse-Lautrec created some of the most beautiful, decadent and provocative representations of love and sensuality.
As one of the best-known post-impressionist painters, his portrait of two women kissing in bed scandalized contemporary French society. The two women worked in one of the Parisian brothels frequently visited by Lautrec.
Fascinated by the “urban underclass” Lautrec felt a particular affinity with prostitutes, seeing himself as a social outcast due to his physical disabilities. Over his career, Lautrec created over 150 drawings and paintings of the women at one brothel on the Rue d’Amboise. Speaking of the paintings, he simply commented “these women are alive”.
5. Guillaume Seignac, Pierrot’s Embrace (c.1900)
Guillaume Seignac was a French academic painter, celebrated for his mythological depictions of beautiful women. Inspired by classical Greece and Rome, common themes included Cupid and Psyche, the goddess Diana, ethereal nymphs and women lounging on the terraces of Pompeii.
Diaphanous drapery was the artist’s particular specialty, winning him several honors and medals at the strict Paris Salon. This classical academic background made Seignac’s Pierrot’s Embrace even more shocking. Representing a young couple at a masquerade ball, the intense sensuality of the scene is plain to see.
Previously depicted by Rococo masters such as Antoine Watteau, the “Pierrot” clown was traditionally a figure of fun. In post-revolutionary France however, he came to represent the French populace themselves, struggling to find their place in a disillusioned, bourgeois world.
6. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907)
What list of famous romantic artworks would be complete without Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss painting? Reflecting the culmination of the artist’s “Golden Period” it depicts Klimt with his lover. A personal, tender moment is elevated to a timeless, powerful scene – given the authority and monumentality of religious iconography.
Particularly inspired by Byzantine mosaics and illuminated manuscripts seen in Italy, Klimt utilized the tropes of religious art to elevate the scene. This included the couple’s two-dimensional appearance, stylized golden background and the way they fill the frame.
If you’re searching for romantic oil painting reproductions, the shining sensuality of Klimt’s The Kiss is surely the ultimate artwork?
7. Egon Schiele, Embrace, Lovers II, (1917)
Last but certainly not least in this list of the most famous kisses in art history, we couldn’t fail to mention Egon Schiele. Love is, of course, not all elevated ideals and wistful looks. No one captured pure sexuality more brilliantly than Schiele. His expressionist drawings, illustrations and paintings boldly describe both heterosexual and homosexual love.
Painted just one year before his death, Embrace (Lovers II) is actually one of Schiele’s more restrained and mature paintings. It presents a couple tightly holding each other amidst crumpled bed sheets. The bodies, sheets, hair and background all merge into one another, in a truly tender moment of intimate embrace.
At Reproduction Gallery, we boast an unrivaled collection of oil painting reproductions of museum masterpieces. They make perfect romantic valentine’s gifts for her (and for him!), so whether it’s amorous kisses, the noble ideals of renaissance courtship or pre-Raphaelite romance, browse our famous paintings and artists today.
We also offer bespoke commissions, so if you’re looking for something truly original for your loved-one, get in touch. Our friendly, expert team would be glad to advise.
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