Art for London Lovers

With Valentine’s Day approaching, London Blue Badge guide, Tina Gwynne-Evans highlights some of her favourite paintings in London collection that are perfect for lovers.

Venus & Mars by Sandro Botticelli (National Gallery)

Created as a wedding gift for a young Florentine couple, Sandro Botticelli’s sensuous portrait shows Venus and Mars idling away the afternoon in a shady glade. The message? Perhaps that Venus, goddess of love, has disarmed Mars, the god of war. Yet all may be not as idyllic as it seems. Venus throws her lover a frosty stare as he snores away, oblivious to the satyrs playing raucously with his armour. And perhaps the wasps buzzing about above Mars’ head offer a warning of the sting love can bring? After all, Venus was married to another.

​Bacchus & Ariadne by Titan (National Gallery)

Titan captures an electric moment of love at first sight. Seeing her lover sail off into the far horizon, Ariadne realises she has been abandoned on the island of Naxos. Happily, her tears are short-lived. Bacchus arrives to save the day, leaping love-struck from his chariot to reach her. Ariadne is smitten, but theirs is an impossible love. How can a god marry a mere mortal?

Marriage a la Mode by William Hogarth (National Gallery)

In a series of six paintings, William Hogarth tells a cautionary tale of why you should never marry for status or for money. Hogarth’s satirical take on the aristocracy and the aspirational merchant class in 17th century London begins with the Earl of Squander and a rich City Alderman discussing the marriage of their daughter and son. The series goes on to chart the young couple's chaotic path towards ruin and tragedy, including the pox, a murder and a suicide.  

​The Awakening Conscience by William Holman Hunt (Tate Britain)

At first glance this painting shows an intimate, light-hearted moment between a couple. A closer look reveals the torment of a kept woman wanting to leap out of her gilded cage before she is discarded, like the glove lying on the floor. The artist William Holman Hunt, one of a revolutionary band of young artists challenging the art establishment in the 1850, met the model for his painting in a pub. He set Annie Miller up in an apartment and planned to marry her… some day. In the end Annie turned out to be revolutionary too. After a career as a model, she became independent and escaped the fate of many poor women in Victorian society by marrying on her own terms.

To book The Art of Love, a City Treasures tour of the National Gallery, email t.gwynne.evans@gmail.com


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