For all of human history, there have been lovers, and what better subject to paint than such a universally shared one? It's Valentine’s Day, so let’s take our opportunity to dive into romantic scenes from art history and be inspired!
1. An Intimate Moment Captured by Rembrandt
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, A Woman bathing in a Stream (Hendrickje Stoffels), 1654. "Rembrandt: The Late Works" at The National Gallery, London. Oct. 15th, 2014 – Jan. 18th, 2015.
Scenes of everyday figures with most of their bodies unclothed weren’t common in 1654 when Rembrandt painted this scene of a woman bathing in a stream.
The first thing that stands out about this painting is how the woman’s legs are suggestively bare, and yet the painting is less sensual in nature than it is a loving portrait of an everyday walk through a stream.
The woman’s face is depicted with a kind smile, and her posture is cautious as if the stream is cold. The painter appreciates her physical beauty and personality all in one painting!
Our source material notes that this woman may be Hendrickje Stoffels, Rembrandt’s common-law wife, who stayed with him until she died.
2. A Jaunty Portrait of Newlyweds by Rubens
The Honeysuckle Bower, c. 1609. Peter Paul Rubens. Photograph: Rubens House, Antwerp
This is a special painting because it provides us with an inside look at the personality and life of Peter Paul Rubens. This is a self-portrait of him and his wife Isabella Brant right after they got back from their honeymoon, and the candidness of their expression makes this piece nearly resemble a photograph.
The couple is posed deliberately, but not artificially. Each of the lovers has a youthful twinkle in their eye, suggesting that they were laughing and joking as they tried to pose for this picture.
It is truly amazing that Rubens could capture such immediacy and casual atmosphere in a time-intensive painting!
3. A Lively Dance by Renoir
Dance in the Country, 1883. Pierre Auguste Renoir. Photograph: Musee d'Orsay, Paris
This painting depicts whirling motion throughout, even in the direction of the brushstrokes in the background. We see a man focused only on his lover while she glances at us with an expression of complete peace and contentment as she dances with him.
Renoir captures both her tranquillity and the man’s gentle passion with such subtlety that this painting almost feels like a photograph despite not being done in a photorealistic style. The soft springtime colours add to the dreamy and cheerful feeling.
4. A Tender Portrait by Rembrandt
The Jewish Bride, c. 1666. Rembrandt
We return now to Rembrandt because of his unique talent for depicting gentle and intimate moments. Here we have a more formal portrait than the previous featured Rembrandt work, but the formality doesn’t make the moment any less sweet.
The soft, warm colours lend a cosiness to the atmosphere, and the way that the couple gazes at each other suggests a passionate yet quiet and comfortable love. The man’s embrace of the woman is so gentle and caring, as is the way her hand rests upon his.
5. Beauty in the Everyday
Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O'Keeffe--Hands and Thimble, 1919. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA)
This photograph by Alfred Stieglitz is a beautiful reminder of how when you truly love someone, you appreciate the smallest things about them.
Stieglitz photographed the hands of his wife Georgia O’Keeffe, who was a notable artist herself, while she sewed some fabric. Someone else may have overlooked this everyday moment, but Stieglitz loved O’Keeffe and saw her individuality in everything she did.
We hope you have a happy and meaningful Valentine’s Day! If you found this article inspiring, you can subscribe to our email newsletter to be notified when the next one comes out! Happy creating!