A Lover’s Trail for Valentine's Day: Lost relics and old haunts of passion

By Heidi Dore | 11 February 2015

Art, letters, books, literature and natural beauty in a Valentine's Day celebration of love

The Scandalous

A photo of Auguste Rodin's the kiss showing two lovers embracing in a sculpture form
© Philipp Weissenbacher
Rodin’s provocative sculpture The Kiss outraged Sussex residents when it was displayed in Lewes Town Hall in 1914. It was commissioned by Lewes-based collector Edward Perry Warren who, after declaring himself a pagan, made a special point of asking for the genitals to be prominently displayed rather than modestly hidden.

A local headmistress, aptly named Miss Tutt, feared it would dangerously inflame the passions of soldiers billeted in the town and put public morals at risk. She successfully campaigned to remove it from view. The sculpture was hidden away until 1929, when it was loaned to The Tate where it has a permanent home.

The Chaste

A black and white photo of a man and woman at a train station in the film brief encounters
© Wikimedia Commons
Love blossoms at a railway station when a passing steam train blows grit into the eyes of a beautiful woman and a dishy doctor comes to her rescue. Brief Encounter stirs up strong emotions, but rather than carry on a steamy affair the pair dutifully repress their feelings. It is all in impeccably good taste with minimal fuss, but nonetheless tugs unbearably at the heart strings.

Carnforth Station in Lancashire has lovingly restored the platforms and tearoom where David Lean filmed the classic British tale of thwarted love. It’s a great nostalgic hang out. But you don’t get grit in your eye like you used to.

The Surreal

The mesmerising grace of an eight-limbed embrace is captured by French filmmaker Jean Painlevé. He documents the amorous underwater adventures in The Love life of the Octopus in 1967. This cinematic gem has an amazing soundtrack and gives a macabre and fascinating insight into the often creepy insistence of human desire.

The Scarlet Woman

A photo of two elegant red dresses with a yellow sash inside a museum display case
The sexy red nightie of the “brazen” American divorcee who stole the heart of the Edward III, leading him to abdicate from the throne in 1936, is displayed at All Hallows Museum of Lace in Honition.

Wallis Simpson was famously chic and fashion collectors will pay hundreds of pounds to get their hands on items from her lingerie drawer. Critics say she used fashion as a weapon – to win the King of England.

It is said that she was determined to be the best dressed woman in the world, although perhaps not the most beautiful. This slinky relic is a testament to her taste. It also brings to mind the high price the lovers paid for their affair. They changed the course of British history, were forced into exile and shunned by society.

Sex, censorship and smuggling

the book cover of Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence
The Pengin Paperback of Lady Chatterley's Lover © Photo By Twospoonfuls, CC BY-SA 4.0
Britain was morally outraged by Lady Chatterley’s Lover when it was published in 1928 – and it was at the centre of an obscenity trial in 1960. DH Lawrence’s infamous love story was filled with the swear words F*** and C***. It gave meticulous descriptions of romps between a society lady and her gamekeeper. It is hard to tell which was the greater transgression – sex, swearing or the open cavorting between the upper and lower classes. Nonetheless, the book was a big hit.

Fascinating relics held at the Merseyside Maritime Museum are testament to this. Deep in the vaults are old editions of the love story along with customs ledgers revealing that 120 copies of the “obscene publication” were seized from ladies on foreign tours and high-ranking military men on board cross-channel ferries during the early 1930s.

Love and sex were major themes in his writing, but visitors to Lawrence’s birthplace will search in vain for clues of this. This drab working class home in Nottinghamshire is a reminder that great passions lurk beneath modest exteriors.

The Love Letter

a two page latter written in red ink
A First World War love letter from Emily to Will, March 28, 1917© Courtesy IWM
The British postal service delivered around two billion letters during World War One. Thousands of these are love letters held in the archives of the Imperial War Museum.

Touching humdrum details, old-fashioned expressions, ornate copper plate handwriting and repeated instructions not to worry are the common themes. It is inspiring to read the unceasing and abundant expressions of tenderness and care in the face of uncertainty, death and horror.


a photo of a medieval reliquary based on the face of an unknown medieval female saint in a display case
© Photo Richard Moss
When you have had a gutful of earthly love, why not look towards heaven to express yourself? Treasures of Heaven, held at the British Museum in 2011, featured devotional reliquary said to bridge the divide between man, woman and the divine. They helped people express their passions in a more rarefied way.

This calm maiden is made from painted oak and has a secret trap door in the crown of her head which once held the skull of a female saint. She is far from a sex goddess. Her discreet beatific smile is supposed to transform turbulent human feelings into a soothing meditation on spirituality and the heavenly realm.

The ever-changing face of love...

...is the subject of Love is All, a film that captures 100 years of love and courtship. The cinema montage ranges from the first screen kiss in a railway tunnel in 1899 to the first hugely controversial gay snog in My Beautiful Launderette in 1986.

A Richard Hawley soundtrack without narrative or words makes this a great anthropological study of smooching, shy smiles and the sweet, silly state of being lovestruck.

  • Are you going to a museum or gallery for Valentine's Day? Leave a comment below.

Visit Heidi Dore's blog.
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