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Five romantic paintings at Manchester Art Gallery for Valentine's Day

Art galleries really are romantic places so here are five paintings for lovers for whom art goes straight to the heart

By Rob Martin
Byron’s Early Love, ‘A Dream of Annesley Hall’  1856

Byron’s Early Love, ‘A Dream of Annesley Hall’ 1856
Edward Matthew Ward 1816 - 79
Oil on canvas
Sir Charles E. Swann gift 1917.273

As a youth, the Romantic poet Byron was infatuated with his neighbour, Mary Chaworth. Here he watches her dancing with her betrothed, Jack Musters, at a ball in her home, Annesley Hall, in 1805. Byron's ill-fated love of Mary was the subject of his poem, 'The Dream'. Mary did end up becoming Mrs Musters in real life, but the marriage soured, and she began to think fondly of Byron again, reading all his published poetry, and even trying to meet with him. She also experienced a distressing mental illness. He in later life, after his own romance had turned sour, never forgot Mary. But his feelings changed from ardent romantic love, to bitterness, and then to pity for her unhappy situation. Byron remarked at the end of his life that if he had married Mary, his life may have been different – better.

Early Lovers 1858

Early Lovers 1858
Frederick Smallfield 1829-1915
Oil on canvas
Purchased 1903

The sweet, trusting looks exchanged by the young people are really poignant. The 'early' in the title refers not just to their tender age, but to the season - it's a beautifully painted evening in early Spring. Every flower can be identified - the vision of the painter has the enviable clarity of youth.

The Last Watch of Hero  with predella panel The Death of Leander  about 1887

The Last Watch of Hero
with predella panel The Death of Leander about 1887
Frederic, Lord Leighton 1830 -1896
Oil on canvas
Purchased 1887

Although Hero and Leander lived in rival cities, separated by a stretch of sea, the star-crossed lovers conspired to meet every night. Braving the current, Leander swam across the water guided by a lamp that Hero lit in her tower. Tragedy struck after a summer of love when winter winds blew out the lamp. Without this guide, Leander floundered and drowned - you can see his body on the panel below the main image, predicting what Hero will find after her final vigil at her window.

Joli Coeur  1867

Joli Coeur 1867
Dante Gabriel Rossetti 1828-1882
Oil on panel
Miss Annie E F Horniman bequest 1937

She's a pretty girl with a heart pendant, painted more as a courtesan than a tragic lover. Beneath the silky red and gold cloth and sensuous fur, she's revealing her underwear, and she's playing with her necklace in a flirtatious way.

Sappho  1877

Sappho 1877
Auguste Charles Mengin 1853-1933
Oil on canvas
Mr Thomas James Lloyd gift 1884

There are many stories told about the ancient Greek poet Sappho on the isle of Lesbos - French painter Auguste Mengin has illustrated one in which she kills herself in unrequited love for a young man. This is one of the most dramatic paintings in the gallery, with Sappho's pale skin and brooding looks framed in black.


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