The National Gallery’s Love exhibition seems to have been reviewed everywhere recently, and I’m always a sucker for a freebie anyway, so thought I’d have a quick look. I’m glad I did. It’s not often you get to see such an eclectic mix – Emin alongside Rossetti, Cranach near Claude, etc. Generally I’m a bit wary of “themes” – allows generalised and rather trite philosophising, as well as making often rather tenuous connections, and the NG blurb didn’t inspire me much:
Arguably love has been the inspiration for more great art than any other human emotion. Nevertheless it presents a challenge to the visual artist. How do you depict love? How do you convey its complexity and intensity?
The wide range of types of love made it difficult to focus, but it was managed quite well, covering divine and human love, siblings, parental, and the usual romantic love. I thought Sandys’ Medea was an interesting inclusion – what can go wrong in love (for those who didn’t do Classics A-level, Medea killed her children to pay back her husband for infidelity. Lovely.) And I was surprisingly taken with Grayson Perry’s God Please Keep My Children Safe (above), a fragile-looking ceramic rabbit with prayers for one’s children inscribed on it. Directly opposite that, DG Rossetti’s Astarte Syriaca – now that’s a twisted kind of love, difficult to disentangle the painter’s personal feelings (his adulterous adoration of the model, Jane Morris) from the classical connotations of the subject.
Actually, two of the paintings I liked best were ones I hadn’t seen before: Jan Molenaer’s A Young Man and Woman making music (1630-2) – domestic and artistic harmony (though he looks a lot happier than she does) and painted so comfortably; and Chagall’s Bouquet with Flying Lovers (1934-47), left, which seems a tribute to a happy marriage, though it was painted after her death, and contains shadows and colours of mourning as well as a blissful-looking couple. I guess that’s one of the good things about “themed” exhibitions, though – not only does it throw paintings one knows and loves into a different context, it also provides new joys.