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Romantic Encounters

The Wallace Collection: a feast of Rococo art, breath-taking furniture, dazzling armour and… romance? Over the past month we’ve been asking our online followers and members of staff to decide on the most romantic painting in the Collection. From this we’ve compiled a shortlist, so do let us know whether you agree!


P430Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767

The overwhelming favourite from our followers, it is of course the world renowned The Swing. This lighthearted love triangle, literally if you look at the composition, shocked the contemporary French nation with its daring. The painting is full of hidden jokes, for example, the lady wears a shepherdess’s hat, traditionally symbolising virtue, while her dog, normally a motif for faithfulness, is portrayed jumping around as if excited by the scene. Now, of course, it remains one of our most beloved paintings, with its tantalising depiction of a beautiful young girl poised, so titillatingly, between her two admirers.


P380Jean-Baptiste Pater, Fête galante with a Dancing Couple, c.1725

This painting, using Watteau’s idea of fête galante, takes us into the courting world of eighteenth century France. Flirtation, music and, no doubt, intrigue sing out from the canvas. Watteau even offers us a choice- which of these young lovers would we most like to be? Centre stage as the dancing pair? Or perhaps the embracing couple in the right mid-distance, only recently re-revealed after being hidden to appease nineteenth century morals.


P128Jean Raoux, A Lady at her Mirror, c.1720s

This beautiful depiction of a well-dressed girl illuminated as she stares at her mirror is neither titillating nor a show of courtly love, but instead embodies romantic anticipation. The painting was dismissed as ‘pretty and unimportant’ by the 4th Marquess of Hertford, but we have to disagree. Her entranced look and blissful state makes us wonder who she is thinking of and waiting for…


P236Gerard ter Borch, A Lady reading a Letter, c.1665

Our first Dutch contender, this painting showing a pretty girl reading a letter would have screamed  ‘romance’ for it’s contemporary audience. In Dutch society depictions of the young reading letters signified amorous thoughts and intrigue. Hopefully her young admirer is worth the neglect of her household duties!


P179Willem van Mieris, Paris and Oenone, 1698

This could be the perfect pastoral love scene, the young couple reclining under a tree which will forever carry their initials upon its bark… until you notice the names. Oenone was no match for Venus’ promise of the love of the most beautiful women in the world, Helen of Troy, though we all know how successful that match was. Still, better to have loved and lost…?


P394 Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Fountain of Love, c.1785

Another offering from Fragonard, this one sets a rather different tone from the playful Swing. Here happy flirtation has passed and it is instead intense passion which sends the two lovers to the fountain, ‘both aflame, eyes shining, they direct their thirst and the desire of their lips towards the enchanted cup’, as described by the literary Goncourt brothers.


P431François Boucher, Shepherd and Shepherdess Reposing, 1761

The perfect vision of a pastoral romance, everything is elegant and harmonious, in fact, just true contentment. It looks too good to be true, but we can still enjoy it!


P84 Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, 1624

Who could resist that smile (or is it a smirk)? Certainly not the 4th Marquess of Hertford who paid an extortionate amount to ensure that handsome face beamed down from the wall. One of the possible theories behind the identity of the sitter is that this was a betrothal painting, based on the romantic imagery on his clothes, including arrows, flaming cornucopias and lovers’ knots. We can only wonder who the lucky lady was.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this romantic venture into the Collection. Let us know whether you agree or why not bring your loved one to visit us this Valentine’s Day and pick your own favourite? Perhaps even dine under the stars at the Wallace Collection restaurant and sample the specially designed St Valentine’s Day menu this Saturday evening (sold out Friday).

By Marie Stirling

Francis says;
There should be for fun stuff for kids, like the armoury.

Francis on 19 February 2014