Valentine’s Day is approaching and “Love Stories,” a fabulous exhibition of portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, London, is a perfect way to explore love and sex vicariously. Over 100 paintings of famous people, famous artists, famous love affairs and famous sex scandals fill the Worcester Art Museum gallery. Almost every art style and medium is represented beginning with the 1571 oil portraits of the Archbishop of York and his wife, through 2018 photos of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. The exhibit is almost overwhelming in its visual riches and storytelling.
“Scandal and Tragedy” and “Love Against the Odds” are two topical groupings — out of seven — of portraits that have the most contemporary appeal. An example is the famous sex scandal of Oscar Wilde’s outlawed love for Lord Alfred Douglas for which he was sentenced to “hard labor” (Gillman & Co., 1893, gelatin print). Kenneth Green’s 1943 oil portraits of Benjamin Britten and his life-long partner Peter Pears, show the famous musical couple in a loving, widely recognized, relationship.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono loved to publicize their love. In 1968, Lennon made a bizarre double photo-portrait of them, nude, with their bare backsides facing us, clothes strewn about. He is both taunting his fans, and flaunting his love. Another popular power-couple, Mick Jagger and Bianca Jagger, are “caught in the act” as newlyweds in the back of a limousine by Patrick Lichfield, 1971, inkjet print. Mick is smoking and Bianca is bare breasted, but both clearly having fun.