#1 The Musée d'Orsay | Paris, France
The Musée d’Orsay is centred right in the heart of Paris, the city of love. It is filled with romantic masterpieces and alluring impressionist paintings. The museum is housed in what used to be the Beaux-Arts train station built in 1898. Elements of the old train station can still be seen throughout the museum.
This museum gets its reputation as one of the most romantic museums since it houses the largest collection of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings in the world. Works of art from Monet, Degas, Manet and Renoir decorate the walls of the museum. These soft and subtle paintings lull you into a sweet and sensual world. No one can stand in front of Monet’s Lily Pond and not be transported. And Renoir’s scenes of passionate delights in the Dancing at the Moulin de la Galette in Montmartre makes you want to grab your partner's hand and dance the day away yourself.
#2 Museum of Broken Relationships | Zagreb, Croatia
An art collection dedicated to the end of a relationship might seem like an odd choice when listing off Romantic museums, but the Museum of Broken Relationships is one of the most emotionally resonant places in the world. And whether they are stories of sadness, anger or sentimentality, each piece in the museum tells the story of the power of love and how it can change your life forever, good or bad. You might need to be in a healthy relationship to take your lover with you to this place, but I think both of you can grow stronger by seeing some of the pieces from this exhibit.
We’ve all experienced aspects of these stories in our own lives, and it’s only in learning from them that we can grow. Even if you're single or going through a painful breakup, there is a sense of community and understanding which surrounds you inside this white-walled art gallery.
#3 The Louvre | Paris, France
If you’re not looking for something as ambitious, you can always go with a classic. The Louvre is home to some of the most romantic sculptures from around the world. Its alter piece of the museum, the one that greets you when you step through the door is the Winged Victory of Samothrace. She used to stand on the prow of a ship, supposedly dating back to 190 BC. She was most likely offered to the sailors in commemoration of a naval victory and to help protect the sailors from shipwrecks. Her simple drapery is wet from swells of water and clings to her voluptuous body. She seems to call out to you as you approach. Ever since being acquired by the museum she has been headless, leaving it up to your imagination what this beauty might have looked like.
Another sculpture that is right on theme is the carving of Eros and Psyche by the illustrious Antonio Canova. Psyche, who has been cast into an endless sleep, is awakened by a passionate kiss from Eros. As he kisses her, her wings open up, and she seems to “bloom” in his arms. A blooming flower is popular symbol for virginity in art history. Her nude form is only covered by a thin piece of drapery that seems as if it is just about to fall as she reaches up into Eros' arms. We wait patiently in front of the couple for that moment to come, yet it never does. They are frozen in that beautiful moment of anticipation.
#4 Victoria and Albert Museum | London, England
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had one of the most poetic relationships in English history. Most court marriages are arranged to secure political alliances, so it's rare that in the monarchy we see a case of true love. Queen Victoria loved Prince Albert so deeply that after his death she wore black for the rest of her life in honour of his passing and the overwhelming grief she felt in his absence. She built this museum to honour his memory. He always wanted the people to be knowledgeable and share in the riches of his kingdom. Here, at the V&A, the public could view the treasures of England’s past and present but also precious objects from around the world.
Some of the most romantic parts of the collection include illustrated manuscripts of famous love songs from the Renaissance and sultry sculptures depicting some of the greatest love stories from antiquity. The V&A also houses over 3,000 pieces of jewellery, many of which were given as tokens of love. Here you can look down at medieval love rings, a pendant given to Elizabeth I from one of her lovers and sparkling tiaras worn by princesses on their wedding day.
#5 The Uffizi Museum | Florence, Italy
The building we now know as the Uffizi Museum didn't start off as a museum at all. It was once the palace of Cosimo I de’Medici designed by Giorgio Vasari. These two names, Vasari and Medici, are perhaps the two most important names in art history. The Medici family was one of the wealthiest families in Florence and shaped the history of Italy.
Vasari, although not famous for paintings, is whom we refer to as “the first art historian”. He created an almost encyclopedic book called The Lives of the Artists. He grew up with Michelangelo, Donatello, Titian, Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael and hundreds more. His biographies are annotated with juicy pieces of gossip and personal anecdotes which provides a glimpse into the real world of these historic artists. His love for art was unending. The same goes for the Medici's. Although it might not be love between two people, these people's devotion and affection for art and artists runs deeper and more profoundly than many human romances.
The most iconic painting representing passion in the Uffizi is the Primavera by Botticelli. We've all seen pictures of this piece but seeing it in person is something that takes you aback. I had no idea how big it would be and how stunning the figures would seem to the audience. They are calling out to you, beaconing you to join them in their revelry of desire. The Primavera, or the Allegory of Spring, is all about women and fertility. Their bodies are literally coming into bloom after a long winter. Every figure in this painting is almost painfully sensual. The three graces are adorned in heavy, yet translucent cloth, that just barely hides their naked forms from your voyeuristic gaze. This painting is just the spark any couple needs to set them on fire.
#6 Belvedere Palace and Museum | Vienna, Austria
The Belvedere Museum was once a huge baroque Palace, home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty and built for Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Prince always loved art and started collecting at a young age. In 1781 the Prince opened up parts of his imperial collection up to the public. Over the years the state collection grew and grew and in 1903 the Moderne Galerie was opened as public Museum. It’s curator, a subordinate to the Minister of Culture, made sure to acquire works of art from all different epochs representing a wide breadth of art from Austria’s history.
But what makes this museum worthwhile on out journey through romantic museums, is its collection of Klimt masterpieces. His "piece de resistance" is entitled The Kiss and is widely thought of as one of the most dramatic and amorous paintings ever made. Klimt was an intensely passionate painter. His favourite subject was the female body and his works are all marked by intense eroticism. The Kiss depicts two figures joined together in a tight embrace, as they stand on the edge of a cliff. Even the shape of the Kiss has suggestive symbolism. The man and woman together form the shape of a phallus - it doesn't get much more clear than that.
The gold colour in the painting is real gold leaf. It shines like the sun. Bright and warm. Looking at the painting, you can almost feel that ignition of love between the two sweethearts, the heat radiating off that embrace. The two figures are surrounded by Grass of Parnassus, an ancient symbol of fertility. The grass caresses the women’s calves ever so subtly, creeping up her spine. Despite standing on the edge of a cliff, the couple seems unaware of this dangers. There are so many vulnerabilities you experience when it comes to loving someone. But in this moment, there is no thought of fear or jealousy, just love.
#7 Louisiana Museum of Modern Art | Øresund Sound in Humlebæk, Denmark
The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art is in a world of its own. Unlike most museums, it’s not in the centre of a big city. To get here, you have to take a train from the centre of the city and travel out to the calm, countryside. A perfect weekend getaway for you and your loved one. The idyllic, breathtaking landscape surrounding the museum is in itself what makes this place so romantic.
As you approach the museum, you wander through a small Danish waterside fishing village. You pass little cottages and tiny farms when suddenly you come upon an unassuming yet contemporary looking building. The sound of water can be heard in the distance, and as you pass through an archway of trees, you come upon the museum’s entrance.
Inside is a mixture of indoor and outdoor exhibitions, the combination of art, architecture and scenery is impeccable. You weave through the collections at your own pace. The outdoor sculptures are hidden among the trees and seem like a little secret you can discover along the way. The way you view the art is a very personal experience. Modern art can be challenging to define, and it is more up to the viewers on interpretation. Discussing the ideas and emotions that each piece brings forth inside you and your partner is such a bonding adventure, and once that is sure to spark some passionate feelings. This museum is noted in the book “The Top 1,000 Places to Visit Before You Die” and I couldn’t agree more.
#Rodin Museum | Paris, France
The Rodin Museum houses a collection of works from its namesake, Auguste Rodin. Rodin was one of the first sculptors of his age to depart from traditional methods of sculpting the body (generally thought to be overly perfect and unrealistic). He loved imperfections and wanted to depict a truer to form a representation of the human figure. Instead of stiffly posed allegories, we were suddenly exposed to voluptuous, undulating women with wills and desires of their own. He, like Klimt, an intensely passionate man and this vigour can be throughout his work. Rodin had a love affair with love itself and all of his pieces speak to a visceral part of ourselves. They awaken us. And for the lovers, they might ever enliven something else…
While The Kiss is the most notable sculpture by Rodin, there are so many others that deserve their moment in the sun. Nymphs Playing, Eternal Idol and The Cathedral are all splendidly tender pieces that bring me to my knees, but my favourite has to be Romeo and Juliet. And what duo more perfectly represents storybook, romantic love than Romeo and Juliet? Unlike The Kiss, which is posed and almost self-conscious, Romeo and Juliet captures that hurried moment between these two lovers. Their affair of the heart didn’t have time to be polished, to be detailed. It was quick and hasty. Passionate and rushed. From afar you can barely make out the two different figures, from a distance they appear to be one unified piece. As you get closer, you can begin to discern one shape from the other. Rodin didn’t want to capture a peck on the lips. No, for Romeo and Juliet it had to be a fiery outburst, a blurred vision as it passes us by. Much like time moved too quickly for these lovers. I believe, it is THE most exceptional depiction's of love ever made and the perfect thing to see on Valentines.
#9 Thorvaldsen | Copenhagen, Denmark
This won’t be on many other lists. It’s a bit of wild card. And I think I like that. It’s nice to have something a bit out of the ordinary at the top of the list because if it wasn’t you could be reading this anywhere else. Thorvaldsen is a mostly unknown name outside of Europe, but within the continent, he is among some of the most famous sculptors! Thorvaldsen was born in Copenhagen in 1770 to poor parents but his lucky for him, his father was a carver. From a young age, Thorvaldsen learned to sculpt; his eyes would trace over an object and learn their lines and curves perfectly and then copy the form onto a piece of wood. He learned to appreciate the subtle curvatures of the human body, and eventually his skills were recognized by the art community, and he got a scholarship and the opportunity to travel to Rome. There, he studied under some of the great masters and worked there until 1838. When he was in Italy, he took on many prestigious clients and commissions. When he finally returned to Denmark, heralded as a national hero, a museum was built in his honour to house his works. Unlike many artists who never get to see their creations loved by the public, Thorvaldsen had the opportunity to see the museums built from the ground up and watch the people come to admire his works for art.
The basis of Thorvaldsen’s oeuvre is Neo-classical art. Greek and Roman myths created the universe where his art lived. The characters and stories he told through still marble still manage to move the most hardened heart. Cupid, one of the most notorious symbols on Valentine's Day, is celebrated throughout the Thorvaldsen’s Museum.
The story of Cupid of Psyche is a fantastic Valentine’s fable. When Psyche betrays Cupid’s demand that she never look upon him, she was banished and subjected to painful trials from his mother, Venus. Only after passing through these trials would she be allowed to see Cupid again. Psyche was sent to the Underworld to fetch a box, which she was forbidden to open. But curiosity got the best of her. She opened the box only to find deadly fumed trapped inside. They put her into a death-like slumber. When Cupid heard of all, she had been put through only to be with him his heart stirred, and he went to save her. He awakened her from her slumber and brought her back to Olympus to drink from the Elixir of immortality, so they could be together forever. This story of love is a truthful one. It tells us that love is not simple. It can be a trial, but if you never give up, love can be eternal.
Thorvaldsen’s interpretation of this beautiful myth is a gift. The gentleness with which Cupid holds Psyche as she is about to drink from the elixir of life is perfect. He isn’t anxious or nervous, he knows that in seconds their love will be everlasting. Their hands are wrapped together in a teasing, youthful way.
The Three Graces are another group of classical figures brought into reality by Thorvaldsen. The Three Graces represent Beauty, Charm and Modesty. The Three Graces express the giving, receiving and returning of love. They stand together, forming a continuous circle, their bodies interlocking with one and other. At some point, it is hard to tell which hands belong to whom. The marble is hard and cold, but their bodies look soft and warm. Thorvaldsen seems to mould the unyielding stone into flesh before our very eyes. Like these women, he weaves a spell of love over all those who love to love.
And finally, what could a post about love be without the goddess of love herself, Venus. Venus stands here, nude all except for a small, round apple in her right hand. She clasps it gently and seems to look down at it, a sly grin forming on her lips. The Trojan Prince Paris was given an apple from the Gods with the inscription “to the fairest Goddess” written upon it. He was tasked with deciding which goddess was indeed the fairest of them all. All the goddess in Olympus tried to make their case, not just by showing off their beauty but by bribing him. Minerva pledged wisdom to him, Juno promised him wealth, but Venus was cunning. She promised to give him the most beautiful woman on earth - herself. Thus winning the apple.
Venus' tale is a story of how desire and love are more powerful than wealth or wisdom. We can see the story played out on her carved, white face. She stands beautiful and confident, naked and unashamed. Thorvaldsen has also taken much care in the detail and design of her hair. It also looks like a crown of tendrils, emphasising the power of her mind in addition to the beauty of her body. This heavenly goddess is the woman who brought the power of love down to us mortals here on earth. She is the perfect end note to cap off this love-filled guide to finding artful pieces reflecting on passion and desire around the world.