In celebration of Valentine’s Day we’ve scoured the city for the best artsy date ideas to surprise and delight even the most seasoned London gallery goer. From Picasso-inspired patisseries to ravishing paintings of forbidden love, here’s how to impress the art lover in your life.
For the curious collector
The Sotheby’s annual online Erotic Sale, this year between 11 and 20 February, celebrates the finest in eroticism across paintings, photography drawings and more. The 65 lots up for grabs include provocative works by Pablo Picasso, Tracey Emin and Helmut Newton, among others.
There’s also a ravishing portrait, executed in a sensual palette of midnight blues and vermillion reds, by Federico Beltran Masses, the Spanish artist who seduced 1920s Paris; and a sprinkling of pencil nudes by the Surrealist Jean Cocteau. Will it be love at first sight or the start of a slow burning love affair? The choice is yours. But remember, in the heat of a bidding battle, he who dares wins.
For the passionate reader
Just how big a role did love play in the creative trajectory of some of the greatest artistic couples of the 20th century? Kate Bryan’s enjoyable debut The Art of Love considers how romantic relationships — whether tempestuous, fleeting, passionate or life-long — shaped the life and art of the likes of Diego and Frida Kahlo, Gilbert and George and Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock (pictured above). Bryan’s accessible prose and Asli Yazan’s glorious pen-and-ink illustrations make this a perfect gift for the blossoming art lover in your life.
Want to find out more? Join Kate Bryan and Katy Wickremesinghe at Fortnum & Mason on 12 February, between 6.30 and 8.30pm, for a discussion exploring the explosive love stories that inspired some of the world’s finest works of art.
Fortnum & Mason, 181 Piccadilly, St. James’s, W1
For the seasoned gallery goer
The Firmdale hotels, spanning London and New York, boast an eclectic mix of design and art by big names and fresh new talent. Across their lobbies, bars and restaurants, you’ll find works by Tony Cragg, Martha Freud and Howard Hodgkin nestling happily alongside those by John Virtue, Sue Lawty and Martin Richman, all curated by the hotels’ owner Kit Kemp.
The Firmdale group is now offering art enthusiasts the opportunity to discover these ever-evolving art collections for themselves on a Firmdale Art Walk. Held alternately each month at the Haymarket and Ham Yard Hotels (the next is at Ham Yard on 22 February at 10.30am), the walk includes a guided tour of the highlight works on display, an opportunity to learn about how to collect and successfully hang art, a chance to visit to some of Mayfair and Soho’s most prestigious galleries, and a three-course lunch or afternoon tea back at the hotel. What’s not to love?
Ham Yard Hotel, 1 Ham Yard, Soho, W1D 7DT
For the baroque enthusiast
Known as Britain’s ‘Sistine Chapel’, the Painted Hall boasts one of the most breath-taking Baroque interiors in Europe.
The centrepiece of the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich was originally designed by Sir Christopher Wren as a grand dining room for naval pensioners, and built between 1696 and 1712. Its monumental painted ceiling and wall decorations spanning 40,000 sq ft were conceived in 1707 by the British artist Sir James Thornhill.
It took Thornhill 19 years to complete the commission, which was designed to leave visitors in awe. Thanks to a monumental £8.5 million conservation project between 2016 and 2019, it still does.
To enliven this spectacular composition, Thornhill experimented with a variety of painterly techniques — to include trompe l’oeil and chiaroscuro. Look long enough and you’ll see vibrant depictions of prominent figures from British political, scientific, naval and cultural history, including Kings William III and George I and Queens Mary II and Anne, as well as a large cast of allegorical and mythological figures.
Marvel at Thornhill’s magnificent masterpiece this Valentine’s Day whilst learning how to foxtrot at the Painted Hall’s Valentine Late. The evening event includes a glass of prosecco and a beginner’s dance class. Take part in the Valentine-themed trail to discover more about themes of love in this eighteenth-century wonder.
Old Royal Naval College, London SE10 9NN
For the aesthetic foodie
Valentine’s is coming and restaurants are booking up fast. Time to take action. Reserve a table at Ella Canta, chef Martha Ortiz’s spirited tribute to her Mexico City hometown. Set within the InterContinental Hotel Park Lane, Ella Canta is far more than a hotel restaurant. The interiors artfully fuse elements of magical realism and Day of the Dead, while the menu draws inspiration from the folklore, dance and artistic heritage of Mexico. Think vibrant, bold colours, mid-century style furniture, theatrical costumes and skulls.
In celebration of Valentine’s Day, Ortiz has curated an indulgent feast – The Mexican Seduction menu, available until 22 February – to tantalise the taste buds like never before. Opt for oysters to start, before tucking into red snapper served with guajillo adobo, red radicchio and hummus or filet of beef. Desert comes in the form of red fruit sorbet or sweet chocolate tamal with cherry ice cream. If this doesn’t seduce you, the cocktails will.
Ella Canta, One Hamilton Place, Park Lane, London, W1
For the art history aficionado
Set in the splendid Hertford House in Manchester Square, The Wallace Collection is one of London’s most spectacular free museums, housing a collection lovingly assembled by the four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, and bequeathed to the British nation by Lady Wallace in 1897. Aside from the museum’s glorious Dutch Golden Age pictures, there’s eighteenth-century French paintings, furniture and decorative arts, as well as important medieval and Renaissance works.
Among its myriad treasures are some of the most romantic paintings in art history including Shepherd Piping to a Shepherdess (1747- 1750) by François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing (1767-68), a storied painting of a beautiful young woman positioned mid-air on a swing between her elderly husband and her young lover.
After meeting these celebrated romantics, head to the gorgeous leafy courtyard to dine on French classics given a modern twist; for full-tilt flirtation visit on a Friday or Saturday evening when you can dine under the stars.
The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, Marylebone, London, W1
For sweet treat devotees
Treat the one you love to an art-inspired afternoon tea at London’s Rosewood Hotel. In celebration of the Royal Academy’s latest blockbuster exhibition, Picasso and Paper, executive pastry chef Mark Perkins has created a selection of intricate pastries inspired by Picasso, one of the most influential and enduringly popular artists of the 20th century.
Served in the hotel’s elegant Mirror Room, the Picasso Art Afternoon Tea draws inspiration from elements of Surrealism and Cubism, as well as Picasso’s works on paper. Indulge in Oh Those Guitars, sponge made with meringue and infused with orange blossom and honey ganache, which alludes to Picasso’s popular Cubist guitar motif; and The Dream, a Valrhona Jivara chocolate mousse with orange genoise and mango jelly, a homage to Picasso’s 1932 erotic portrait of his 22-year-old mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter. Other Picasso-inspired patisserie will be served alongside finger sandwiches and a curated selection of loose-leaf teas.
Rosewood London, 252 High Holborn, Holborn, WC1
For the discerning magpie
There’s something gloriously decadent about holidaying in your own city, even if it is just for one night. There’s also the added bonus of low travel costs and carry-on baggage only.
Treat the magpie in your life to a night away at the Artist Residence, a charming boutique hotel in the heart of Pimlico. Its vibrant interiors harmoniously blend contemporary art with vintage design, while the art on the walls is ever changing, so no two visits are ever the same. Each of the ten rooms is individually styled, but all feature powerful rainfall showers and beds so comfy you’ll never want to leave.
The restaurant serves hearty dishes — the pancake stack with cinnamon, apple and maple comes highly recommended if you’re brunching — while the cocktail cellar is a good spot for a nightcap. As love is in the air this February, opt for the French Kiss. Consider your Valentine’s gift sorted.
The Artist Residence, 52 Cambridge Street, Pimlico, SW1
For the flower fan
Flowers have long been a means of saying “I love you” but why not go that extra mile and immerse yourself or your loved one in scented blooms on a flower-arranging course? The Valentine’s Floristry Workshop at Pimlico’s Daylesford, on 12 February from 6pm to 8pm, is an intimate affair with local florist Kat Argent showing you how to curate a professional-looking hand-tied bouquet using seasonal blossoms while offering her sage advice on structure, tints, tones and shades, too.
You could even treat your amour to a bit to eat in the organic café beforehand, where fresh seasonal produce is delivered daily from the farm’s market garden, alongside artisan cheese and breads from the creamery and bakery. Whoever said romance is dead, is wrong. It’s blooming.
Daylesford, 44B Pimlico Road, Belgravia, London, SW1
For the Victoriana romantic
Leighton House Museum is the former home-cum-studio of the Victorian artist Frederic Lord Leighton (1830-1896). Built to Leighton’s precise requirements, it grew into what he later described as ‘a private palace for art’. Leighton lived here alone, but entertained some of the most prominent figures of the Victorian age, including Queen Victoria herself.
Wandering around this museum is comparable to losing yourself inside a treasure chest. The extraordinary Arab Hall with its golden dome, intricate mosaics and walls lined with Islamic tiles will take your breath away, while Leighton’s vast painting studio and astonishing collection of nineteenth-century paintings will transport you back in time and place.
The House is undergoing a major restoration and refurbishment project, so it is currently open only during the weekend. There is, however, a programme of weekday events to enjoy: take your date to Drink & Draw, an evening of live music, fine art and wine tasting, or reserve a place on a guided tour of the museum.
Leighton House Museum, 12 Holland Park Road, Kensington, London, W14
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