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Romantic works of art to see on Valentine's Day

Take a Valentine-themed tour through London's museums

The Swing

'The Swing' 1767, by Fragonard

The premise for this racily romantic rococo confection began like a particularly bad, blue joke: the lady on the swing with the frilly bloomers being pushed from behind by the bishop in the bushes. The painter eventually omitted the religious slight but positioned the Georgian gentleman who commissioned the picture in an even more compromising position, staring up at the stockinged legs of his young mistress.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

View 'The Swing' at the Wallace Collection.

Venus and Mars

'Venus and Mars', 1485, by Botticelli

Those 'Carry On' folk had nothing on the early renaissance master of innuendo, Boticcelli. This saucy scene shows what happens when the gods of love and war make love not war, knackering the man from Mars to the post-coital point where even a blast from his horn or a poke from his own phallic spear can’t rouse the normally belligerent bloke.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

View 'Venus and Mars' at the National Gallery.


Disappointed Love

'Disappointed Love', 1821, by Francis Danby

A surefire downer by Irish painter Danby, this melancholic maiden is surrounded by a discarded bonnet, shawl and a miniature portrait of her lover, while a torn-up letter floats away on the pond. Given that this predates the famous ‘Ophelia’ at Tate Britain (meaning it’s pre-Pre-Raphaelite), perhaps Millais was himself in the gallery when a visitor remarked that the poor girl in the picture was somewhat ugly. ‘Yes’, replied his associate, ‘one feels that the sooner she drowns herself the better’.

Romance rating: ♥

View 'Disappointed Love' at the V&A Museum.


'Nevermore', 1897, by Paul Gauguin

Gauguin’s downtime in Tahiti was filled with enough rumpy pumpy to make Caligula blush. As well as the four children he had with his French wife, he had innumerable offspring with an impressive array of local indigenous women. So if he did anything in his life, apart from paint, it was love. A lot. And surely that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

View 'Nevermore' at the Courtauld Institute of Art.

Red-figured wine bowl

Red-figured wine bowl, Greek, about 420-400 BC

You’d expect your wife to at least consider moving on if you’d been gone for twenty years on some epic journey. But when Odysseus returned from his, you know, odyssey to find Penelope being courted by a variety of suitors, he wasn’t best pleased, and killed the lot of ‘em. If that’s not love, we don’t know what is.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥ ♥

View at 'Red-figured wine bowl' the British Museum.

Bacchus and Ariadne

'Bacchus and Ariadne', 1520, by Titian

These days, saucy unsolicited Tinder messages are about as good as romance gets. But back in ancient Greece, and Titian’s renaissance-era Italy, gods were approaching abandoned fillies on deserted islands, and throwing their crowns into the sky to create new constellations. That’s what old Bacchus is doing for Ariadne in this standout National Gallery painting by the Italian master. Ariadne looks a little freaked out here, but the legend goes that they were soon married. When was the last time someone did that for you on OkCupid? Romance may be dead, but it lives on forever on the walls of our museums.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

View 'Bacchus and Ariadne' at the National Gallery.

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust

'Nude, Green Leaves and Bust', 1932, by Pablo Picasso

At the age of 45, and married to the raunchily named Russian ballerina Olga Khokhlova, Picasso fell in love with seventeen-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter. When she accidentally walked in on Pablo with another mistress, Dora Maar, the two women demanded that he choose between them. He had a better idea, and instead had them fight each other for him. What a gent.

Romance rating: ♥ ♥

View 'Nude, Green Leaves and Bust' at the Tate Modern.

Fall head-over-heels in love with London’s most heartmelting art by following our guide to Valentine-worthy works and pulse-quickening paintings, but beware the low scorers on our love-o-meter.