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Perfect for love in a cold climate
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Virginia Blackburn says why not buy a new romantic artwork as just the present for St Valentine's Day
Published in The Times MONEY, FEBRUARY 7, 2004


IT MAY be cold outside, but inside, for the lucky ones at least, the fires of passion are raging. It is just one week until Valentine's Day, or Christmas-come-early for the nation's florists — and so, at the risk of upsetting them, why not buy a real love token for a loved one this year?
After all, a rose, lovely as it is, will last only about a week, whereas if you invest in a work of art, it should last many a lifetime. And there are plenty to choose from, both old and new.
In recognition of the season, the online art gallery London Art is staging an exhibition, The Art of Love, which you can view both online and in person at the Arndean Gallery in Cork Street Central London, on February 9-14.
London Art received more than 900 submissions for the show from 300 artists, of which 100 have made it to the shortlist, priced from about ?100 to just over ?4,000. "Love has always been the biggest inspiration for any artist," says Paul Wynter, managing director of London Art. "When you find it, you want to shout about it — and when you lose it, you're desolate. The work on offer mirrors all that."
Indeed, from Man's very earliest artistic endeavours, love has been a major feature in, and inspiration of, the work he created. The Ancient Egyptians caned depictions of couples on the walls of their tombs, illustrating a man and his wife. The Greek and Ro- man gods were always falling in and out of love with one another and when the artists of the Renaissance painted these tales, they often managed to combine instances of mythical love and the real thing.
"When Botticelli painted Pri-mavera, he was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici, who was in love with a woman called Lucrezia Donati," says Hannah Watson, editor of the London Art website."The figure of Venus in the painting is thus a portrait of Lucrezia, which was the greatest compliment that he could pay her. Not only did he commission the painting thinking of her, but he actually had her represented as the goddess of love."
Of course, the artist's own muse has also always provided inspiration, not least because the muse was also often the lover. Ms Watson cites Rembrandt's Woman Bathing in a Stream: although outwardly it seems merely a Classical portrait of Bathsheba, in reality, it is widely believed to be an intimate view of his mistress, Heindrike Stoffels.
Romantic love is not the only type to figure in art. "By the end of the 19th century, women artists were becoming prominent for the first time," says Ms Watson. "Their presence was felt in relation to a more sentimental depiction of every day life, such as a mother watching over her sleeping baby, as in Berthe Morisot's The Cradle."
And so to the present day. The Art of Love is a modern take on love, with contributions ranging from a Page 3-style Venus by Christian Furr, which is a portrait of the model Petta Longstaffe, to a photograph of what is, quite literally, a grated heart.
It might not be for the squeamish, but it certainly aks volumes. Other exhibits include a series of extreme-stylised women by Olga Gouskova, which might be thought to represent the ideal woman, and a very different but equally potent image of love: that of a man and his dog,
"The exhibition covers a broad variety of mediums, including photography, sculpture, paintings, silk screen, installations and etchings," says Mr Wynter. "Every one is to do with love — and every interpretation is entirely different."