It often feels hard to escape the onslaught of red love hearts and bright bouquets of roses that February brings. However, Valentine’s Day is as good an excuse as any to look at some ‘lovey-dovey’ paintings for want of a better term. Despite the dominant role that the theme of love plays throughout the world of art, one rarely finds representations of a strong connection shared between two people that captures their feelings for one another in a down-to-earth and domestic setting.
Enter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. A key Post-Impressionist figure in nineteenth-century France, many will recognise his glamorous and glitzy posters of the Moulin Rouge. In Bed, The Kiss is as far from an illustrious performance as can be. Like many of his peers, Toulouse-Lautrec was fascinated by the Parisian nightlife, a regular in many bars, cabarets and brothels. It is the latter in which this painting takes place. Toulouse-Lautrec depicts two women, most likely sex workers, lost in a kiss while cuddling in bed. Most of these establishments did not have enough beds for all women, leaving many to share. As such, many formed strong bonds, often leading to romantic relationships the artist claims to have witnessed first-hand.
Though some have passed this painting off as an erotic and sensual display, I find it impossible to look past the true subject of this work. The couple hold each other tightly, intertwined so close they almost become one. There is nothing else to focus on but the two women and their relationship, no elements to distract in the background but the creases and movement of the sheets. Against these grey and blue hues, their light skin and dark hair stand out and grasp the viewer’s attention. Much as they are at the centre of this painting, this couple are at the centre of each other’s world.
Above all, it is the small details that highlight the love shared in this painting. The tight grip of their hands around each other and how the eyes of the woman on the right are open ever so slightly to look at her partner is nothing short of heart-warming. Neither woman seems to care that they are being painted by such a high-profile artist. Messy hair and unkempt bedsheets are of little priority when compared to the bond they share. The women do not pose for this painting, instead, Toulouse-Lautrec captures what appears to be a snapshot in their daily lives.
Hard is it to find a down-to-earth portrayal of romance to this day. Harder still, to find one of a lesbian couple. Yet in 1892, Toulouse-Lautrec manages to do just that. The warm and cosy setting of this painting reflects the light and blissful scene. The love shared by this couple was perhaps inspirational to Toulouse-Lautrec, as they star in many other paintings similar to In Bed, The Kiss. However, none more elegantly captures the atmosphere created by the simple act of a kiss. Even the most anti-romantic and Valentine’s scorners can’t help but be caught up in the bliss and euphoria shared by Toulouse-Lautrec’s anonymous couple.