It’s hard these days to write a blog article without referring to Van Gogh, but he once said: “There is nothing more truly artistic than to love people”. Perhaps that’s why a vast majority of artwork has always been about love, in one way or another. No wonder that when Georges Polti categorized every single dramatic situation that might occur in a story or performance and came up with “The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations”, more than a half of them had something to do with love.
In literature, whether it was ancient Greek mythology or Udmurt tales, most of the plots are love-related. The Kiss, whether it’s by Auguste Rodin, Gustav Klimt, or the French-Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi, is a universal leitmotiv in visual arts.
The relationship between art and its creator has also been in question for centuries. Take Pygmalion, Ovid’s narrative about a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory and fell in love with it. That’s quite messed up even by modern standards.
And what about muses? The stories are never-ending. What if Dali didn’t meet Gala, would his art be the same? And what if Gala didn’t leave her child and husband to become a life-long muse? Sometimes love is stronger than art, but sometimes art prevails – like when Paul Gaugin left his family to live and paint in Tahiti.
Love in art
Rubens, The Honeysuckle Bower (1609)
In 1609 32 years old Rubens married Isabella Brant, daughter of the humanist and lawyer, Jan Brant. Shortly after the marriage he depicted himself hand-in-hand with his young wife under a honeysuckle bower. The couple is portrayed in a state of happiness resulting from love.
Rembrandt, The Jewish Bride (1666)
Rembrandt’s masterpiece is abou a couple joined in love. According to Rembrandt biographer Christopher White, the completed composition is “one of the greatest expressions of the tender fusion of spiritual and physical love in the history of painting”. Rembrandt probably referred to the couples from the Old Testament: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah or Jacob and Rachel.
Antonio Canova, Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss (1793)
The winged young has just landed on a rock where a girl lies unconscious. The god Cupid can be recognized by his wings. The girl is a princess Psyche who is so beautiful that the goddess Venus becomes jealous. She asks her son Cupid to make Psyche fall in love with a monster, but instead he falls in love with her himself.
Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907)
Both figures are fully realized and symbolically blended as they face the golden abyss of perfection. The dominant male force is signified by the powerful coat of masculine black and gray blocks, softened by the feminine organic scrolling, reminiscent of “Tree of Life.” In comparison, female energy is shown as spinning circles of bright floral motifs and upward-flowing wavy lines. From these vestments of artistic creation golden rain blesses the fertile earth, similar to the descending roses in “The Beethoven Frieze”. The triangular fronds also recall water imagery from paintings such as Water Serpents. Here, Klimt’s loosening of naturalism, in favor of a personal symbolic language suggesting the workings of unconscious mind, in particular its erotic urge, reached a climax. Through two figures, depicted not naked, but draped in densely patterned cloths, Klimt succeeded in evoking a moment of intense sensual pleasure, within a sharply stylized and flattened composition.
Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (1943)
Frida Kahlo has begun this portrait right after the divorce with Diego Rivera. This painting is also know with two other names: “Diego in My Thoughts” and “Thinking of Diego”. Frida makes it clear that Diego is on her mind, tattooed on her forehead and she cannot free herself from thoughts about him.
NB: If you don’t have anything planned for tonight, here are a few things you could happily do by yourself:
· Check out the Sky Arts series “Artists in love” (skyvision.sky.com/programme/14160/artists-in-love). There are 10 episodes that will melt your heart, make you angry, make you wonder – and want to create.
· Read the majorly overlooked “Lust for life” by Irving Stone, which tells the story of Vincent Van Gogh like no other work, in a raw and powerful narrative.
· Immerse yourself in the musical side of Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera’s turbulent artistic relationship with this Spotify playlist (open.spotify.com/user/abc_classics/playlist/5LcpUyhCEHQxSolD0VcnaN).
Also published on Medium.