“Here’s Looking at You” Ronald Kok, 2016, Charcoal on paper
Though it is February 15, I thought it might still be okay to stay on the Love theme of Valentine’s Day! Here are some famous romantic images from the history of art (and one not-so-famous that I drew myself – my wife and I on our wedding day). You’ll see the tenderness, emotion, passion, ridiculousness, clumsiness and mystery of love in these artworks. A kiss is just a kiss… unless it is preserved forever on paper, canvas or in stone, of course.
“The Kiss” by Gustav Klimt, 1908. Certainly the most famous of all of Klimt’s work, infused with his trademark eroticism.
“Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Leon Gerome, 1890. This painting depicts the story by Ovid of Pygmalion, the statue created by Galatea, which is brought to life by the goddess Venus.
“In Bed: the Kiss” by Henri de Toulouse-Latrec, 1892. For its time period, this is a shockingly intimate moment to be portrayed in art.
“The Kiss” by Constantin Brancusi. One of four versions of this sculpture that Brancusi created. This work makes me laugh as it reminds me that most of us don’t have that Greek god/goddess body: We look more like one of these two!
“The Kiss” by Auguste Rodin. And then there are those with those Greek god/goddess bodies… In this famous sculpture, the lovers’ lips never actually touch, symbolizing a story to two lovers who were killed before they had the chance to consummate their love for each other.
“The Birthday” by Marc Chagall, 1915. Chagall pictures himself and his wife Bella in dreamy and playful bliss on the occasion of her birthday. As others have remarked, Chagall illustrates how he could bend over backwards for love.
“Kiss V” by Roy Lichtenstein, 1964. I love Lichtenstein’s comic book-inspired art. This embrace leaves room for ambiguity: Is this joy, sadness, or grief? We can’t be sure. However, we can be sure of the genuine affection and empathy of this piece, despite the graphic art nature of it.
Self-Portrait with Seven Digits, 1912-13
Artists inspire artists, art begets art.
As I continue to consider a crucial novel to my own artistic journey, “My Name is Asher Lev”, I was led to the real life artist that inspired, at least in part, the story by Chaim Potok. That artist was the Russian-French master Marc Chagall (1887-1985). Chagall was born and raised in modern day Belarus in a Hassidic community by devout parents. His gift was something so strange and unique to arise from his small-town, Jewish context. Chagall himself claims he didn’t even know what drawing was until he enrolled in a non-Jewish school.
The expression of his incredible gift was equal parts faith-inspired and avant-garde. His use of color and dreamlike images influenced countless other artists, especially those of the Surrealistic movement. He and Pablo Picasso are considered by many to be the greatest painters of the Twentieth century. Picasso himself said, “When Henri Matisse dies, Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is.” His use of crucifixion imagery in telling Jewish stories was revolutionary and directly influenced Potok’s story.
Below is a small gallery of some of my favorite Chagall paintings. See if you are observant enough to notice which painting inspired the musical “A Fiddler on the Roof” 😉
White Crucifixion, 1938
The Praying Jew, 1915
The Blue Circus, 1950
I and the Village, 1911
The Lovers, 1913-14