I've spent some time looking at love through the prism of paintings. It has revealed how artists throughout the ages have captured love, in its many shades, both its pleasures and its pains, as well as the very many varieties of love – from the romantic to the platonic.

Paintings are filled with the traditional symbols and imagery of love, from Cupid to hearts to red roses galore, but there are also some more unusual expressions.

From the beginnings of love to its end, artists have captured both love that is fleeting and love lasting. The first flush of love – in all its forms – graces paintings such as The Dawn of Love, First LoveHer First LoveLove at First Sight and The First Whisper of Love

The Dawn of Love

The Dawn of Love 1846

Thomas Brooks (1818–1892)

Paintings Collection

First Love

First Love 1838–1839

William Mulready (1786–1863)

Paintings Collection

Her First Love

Her First Love 1885

George Sheridan Knowles (1863–1931)

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

The First Whisper of Love

The First Whisper of Love c.1868–1886

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)

Walker Art Gallery

Love at First Sight

Love at First Sight

Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908–1997)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

But love, like life, can be transient – indeed so transient that one painting is called Love Lost as Soon as Won and in one Love Flies Out of the Window.

Love Lost as Soon as Won

Love Lost as Soon as Won 1984

Jacinta Feeney (b.1954)

Royal College of Art

Love Flies Out of the Window

Love Flies Out of the Window

unknown artist

Worthing Museum and Art Gallery

Echoing the advice to 'gather ye rosebuds while ye may' is the painting Gather the rose of love while yet tis time.

'Gather the rose of love while yet 'tis time'

'Gather the rose of love while yet 'tis time' 1848

William Etty (1787–1849)

Birmingham Museums Trust

As the great artists well knew, The course of true love never runs smooth and many paintings depict love gone awry.

'The course of true love never runs smooth'

'The course of true love never runs smooth'

Paul Seignac (1826–1904)

York Museums Trust

There is Sickly Sweet Love.

Sickly Sweet Love

Sickly Sweet Love 1997

Kate Scrivener

Royal College of Art

There is Love Betrayed.

Love Betrayed

Love Betrayed 1883–1884

John Roddam Spencer Stanhope (1829–1908)

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum

There is Disappointed Love.

Disappointed Love

Disappointed Love 1821

Francis Danby (1793–1861)

Paintings Collection

There is Amore on the Rocks.

Amore on the Rocks

Amore on the Rocks 1997

Robert Gordon

Art & Heritage Collections, Robert Gordon University

But there is also hope that what has been damaged may be healed, such as Lost Love Found.

Lost Love Found

Lost Love Found 1912

David Lewis (active 1912–1955)

Cynon Valley Museum

In some art, against all the odds, love lasts – indeed, triumphs – such as in the uplifting sights of Love Triumphant and The Triumph of Love.

Love Triumphant

Love Triumphant 1893–1898

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)

Watts Gallery – Artists' Village

The Triumph of Love

The Triumph of Love 1846

David Scott (1806–1849)

Fife Council

Such is its power that love is personified in Love Steering the Boat of Humanity, by George Frederic Watts, the same artist of Love and Life and Love and Death.

Love Steering the Boat of Humanity

Love Steering the Boat of Humanity 1899–1901

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)

Watts Gallery – Artists' Village

Love and Life

Love and Life c.1884–5

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)


Love and Death

Love and Death 1875

George Frederic Watts (1817–1904)

Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

Love has long been portrayed in myth and literature and many such love stories and mythical figures of love find their way into art.

Cupid has been depicted throughout the ages, from Cupid Inspiring the Plants With Love to more modern depictions, such as this Cupid (after Bronzino).

Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love

Cupid Inspiring the Plants with Love

Philip Reinagle (1749–1833)

The Fitzwilliam Museum


Cupid (after Agnolo Bronzino) 2001

Martin David Solomon (1957–2015)

Coventry University

There are paintings devoted to mythical figures such as Erato, the Muse of Lyric and Love Poetry.

Erato, the Muse of Lyric and Love Poetry

Erato, the Muse of Lyric and Love Poetry c.1800

Italian (Lombard) School (possibly)

National Trust, Anglesey Abbey

One of my favourite love myths is that of Orpheus and Eurydice. Paintings capture the story, from its beginning – such as in Orpheus: The Wooing of Eurydice – to its tragic ending.

Orpheus: The Wooing of Eurydice

Orpheus: The Wooing of Eurydice (after Douglas Strachan) 1949

Hugh Adam Crawford (1898–1982)

Music Hall Aberdeen

In the story, Orpheus loses his love, Eurydice, when she is bitten by a snake. He goes to the Underworld to get her back. Orpheus' talent for making beautiful music means he is given permission to take Eurydice back to the mortal realm – as long as he walks away and does not look back. Doubting that Eurydice is following him, Orpheus turns and looks at the last minute – and so loses his love forever – as shown in Orpheus leaving Eurydice.

Orpheus Leaving Eurydice

Orpheus Leaving Eurydice 1909

Douglas Strachan (1875–1950)

Music Hall Aberdeen

There are numerous artworks depicting the lovers Hero and Leander, and the Biblical Samson and Delilah. And of course, those most famous of star-crossed lovers: Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet 1884

Frank Bernard Dicksee (1853–1928)

Southampton City Art Gallery

Some love myths have a moral for us, such as that of Narcissus, fatally in love with his own image. He eventually wastes away, having fallen deeply in love with 'all the things for which he himself is admired'. His story is told in various paintings, such as Echo and Narcissus.

Echo and Narcissus

Echo and Narcissus 1903

John William Waterhouse (1849–1917)

Walker Art Gallery

There is love all around the world, from Love on the Costa del Sol to Curacao Lovers.

Love on the Costa del Sol

Love on the Costa del Sol c.1983

Alberto Morrocco (1917–1998)

The Fleming Collection

Curaçao Lovers

Curaçao Lovers 1956

Suzanne Perlman (1922–2020)

Ben Uri Collection

There is love at great heights – Alpine Love – and love at depths – The Valley of Love, Hendon, Sunderland.

Alpine Love

Alpine Love 1930

John Albert Cooper (1894–1943)

Manchester Art Gallery

The Valley of Love, Hendon, Sunderland

The Valley of Love, Hendon, Sunderland

John Herring (1859–1925)

Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens

Love also seems to make its own place, such as in the surreal Forest of Love.

Forest of Love

Forest of Love 1991

Barbara Weil (1933–2018)

Maggie's Swansea

Love is depicted in times of tranquility to times of chaos, from Love in Idleness to Love Among the Ruins.

Love in Idleness

Love in Idleness c.1891

Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836–1912)

Laing Art Gallery

Love Among the Ruins

Love Among the Ruins 1894

Edward Burne-Jones (1833–1898)

National Trust, Wightwick Manor

There is Love in the Mist (the name of the flower Nigella damascena) and the suggestion of place in Isn't it Romantic.

Love in the Mist

Love in the Mist

Mavis Blackburn (1923–2005)

Williamson Art Gallery & Museum

Isn't it Romantic

Isn't it Romantic 1978

John Arthur Spence (b.1944)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

And of course, there is love In the Bedroom.

In the Bedroom

In the Bedroom 1981

Jock McFadyen (b.1950)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Indeed, the erotic is depicted in paintings from The Pursuit of Pleasure to Love Birds by Roberta Green, and The Lovers by Eric Seeley.

The Pursuit of Pleasure

The Pursuit of Pleasure 1972

Oscar Mellor (1921–2005)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

Love Birds

Love Birds c.2005

Roberta Green

Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education

The Lovers

The Lovers 1996

Eric Seeley (b.1951)

Milton Keynes Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (managed by Arts for Health – Milton Keynes)

There is not only romantic and sexual love on display but a whole array of other forms of love by turns joyful and sorrowful. There is Paternal Love.

Paternal Love

Paternal Love

Étienne Aubry (1745–1781)

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

There is Maternal Love (Sorrow) and somewhat happier, Mater et Filius.

Maternal Love (Sorrow)

Maternal Love (Sorrow) c.1857

Albertus Johan Neuhuys (1844–1914)

Nottingham City Museums & Galleries

Mater et filius

Mater et filius mid-1960s

Samuel Fisher (b.c.1914)

Solihull Heritage & Local Studies Service

There is Filial Love.

Filial Love

Filial Love 18th C

unknown artist

Shipley Art Gallery

There is Friendship.



William Herbert Allen (1863–1943)

Hampshire County Council’s Fine Art Collection

There is Love among the Nations.

Love among the Nations

Love among the Nations 1935–1936

Stanley Spencer (1891–1959)

The Fitzwilliam Museum

How to express love? There are many paintings of love letters (from Her First Love Letter to Love Letter to a Valentine's message evident in St Valentine's Morn).

Her First Love Letter

Her First Love Letter 1879

John MacLaren Barclay (1811–1886)

Perth & Kinross Council

Love Letter

Love Letter

Arthur Stocks (1846–1889)

Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council

St Valentine's Morn

St Valentine's Morn 1863

John Callcott Horsley (1817–1903)

Rochdale Arts & Heritage Service

But other paintings capture the complexities of depicting this state, such as The Language of Love.

The Language of Love

The Language of Love 1962

John Bowstead (1940–2020)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

The dove has long been associated with love, as well as peace, and it flutters throughout paintings, including Emblems of Love.

Emblems of Love

Emblems of Love c.1820

James Sant (1820–1916)

Fairfax House

There is also, of course, the symbol of lovebirds such as in Girl With Lovebirds.

Girl with Lovebirds

Girl with Lovebirds 1876

Henry Guillaume Schlesinger (1814–1893)

The Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate

Animals are not only limited to being symbols of human love but love in their own right, too. One of my favourite love paintings is the bright The Capercaillie Sings His Lovesong, which depicts a bird at the piano.

The Capercaillie Sings His Lovesong

The Capercaillie Sings His Lovesong 1985

John Bellany (1942–2013)

Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre

There is The Lion in Love and The Love of the Red Swans.

The Lion in Love

The Lion in Love 1836

Camille Joseph Étienne Roqueplan (1800–1855)

The Wallace Collection

The Love of the Red Swans

The Love of the Red Swans 1970

Michael Presley-Roy (1928–2017)

Reading Museum

There is love not only of people, but of places. There is love of and in the inanimate world, too, such as in the intriguing painting, The Loves of the Plants.

The Loves of the Plants

The Loves of the Plants 2003

Derek Hampson (b.1952)

The University of Nottingham

So much passion is in these paintings that they reveal not only the art of love, but the love of art.

Anita Sethi, journalist, writer and critic