Love Stories from the National Portrait Gallery, London

November 13, 2021 – March 13, 2022

Humphrey Ocean, <i>Linda McCartney; Paul McCartney</i>, May 1976, bromide fibre print
Humphrey Ocean, Linda McCartney; Paul McCartney, May 1976, bromide fibre print, 196 x 292 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Given by Humphrey Ocean (Humphrey Anthony Erdeswick Butler-Bowdon), 2006. © National Portrait Gallery, London

This pioneering exhibition will present masterpieces from the Collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, in an innovative exploration of love's role in the creation of some of the greatest masterpieces of Western art by artists such as Sir Joshua Reynolds, Angelica Kauffmann, David Hockney, Lee Miller, and Sam Taylor-Johnson, among others. Organized thematically with works spanning from the late 16th century to the present day, it will make the argument that ideas of love and desire have been critical to the development of portraiture since the genre's emergence in the English Renaissance. More so than other art forms, portraits—sometimes given as tokens of love—offer visual records of relationships, celebrate key moments like engagements and weddings, and serve as memorials to deceased or absent lovers.

At the heart of this exhibition is a series of real-life love stories, captured through the likenesses of sitters—from the 16th-century to storied couples like David and Victoria Beckham, Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Each of the love stories sheds light on a different aspect of romantic love and the role of portraits within it through images which capture artists' obsessions with their muses to those that record tragic love affairs or celebrate the triumph of love against the odds.

From notions of romantic love as a dangerous illness at the beginning of the modern era, to today's celebration of romance as a means of finding fulfillment in life, this exhibition ultimately reveals love as a constant and defining element of the human experience over the past 450 years.

This exhibition is organized by the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Worcester Art Museum's presentation is made possible through the generous support from the Fletcher Foundation. This project is also funded in part by the Ruth and John Adam, Jr. Exhibition Fund, Richard A. Heald Curatorial Fund, Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund, Michie Family Curatorial Fund, John M. Nelson Fund, and Hall and Kate Peterson Fund. Related exhibition programming is supported by the Bernard G. and Louise B. Palitz Fund.

Sponsored by: Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers. Media partner: GBH.

Related Programs

Master Series Third Thursdays

Love Stories from the National Portrait Gallery, London

Thursday, February 17, 6pm

As part of the Museum's monthly Master Series Third Thursday program, Lucy Peltz Ph.D., Head of Collection Displays (Tudor to Regency) and Senior Curator 18th Century Collections from the National Portrait Gallery, London, is in conversation about selected works from this exhibition with Cassandra Albinson, Ph.D., Head, Division of European and American Art, and Margaret S. Winthrop Curator of European Art, at Harvard Art Museums.

Master Series Third Thursday programs are hosted by the WAM Members' Council and sponsored by AbbVie. Additional support is provided by the Amelia and Robert H. Haley Memorial Lecture Fund and the Bernard and Louise Palitz Fund.

Public Tours of Love Stories

Friday, March 11, 11am and 1pm
Saturday, March 12, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm
Sunday, March 13, 11am, 12pm, 2pm
Free with Museum admission
Meet in Lancaster Lobby

Every Friday-Sunday through the end of February 2022, join us for docent-led tours of Love Stories from the National Portrait Gallery, London. Learn the fascinating stories behind some of the most famous (and infamous) couples in English history, from the 16th century to the present day.

“Love Stories” exhibition catalog cover

Exhibition Catalog

This exhibition is accompanied by a beautifully illustrated book, published by the National Portrait Gallery, bringing these love stories to life through the perspectives of numerous authors, using material from the sitter’s own letters, diaries and poetry while highlighting their connection to triumphs of painting, photography, theatre, music and literature. The catalog is for sale in the Museum Shop for $39.95.

For mail orders, please call the Shop at 508.793.4355 or email


PBS News Hour
New exhibit chronicles how love has been depicted in art through the ages
By Jared Bowen, February 14, 2022

The Scarlet
Love, On Exhibit: Exploring 500 Years of Love with the Worcester Art Museum
By Peyton Dauley, February 14, 2022

Worcester Magazine
‘Love Stories’ from Worcester and around the world
By Veer Mudambi, February 11, 2022

The Boston Globe
Conscious coupling in ‘Love Stories’, now at Worcester Art Museum
By Cate McQuaid, February 8, 2022

Open Studio: New Exhibit From London’s National Portrait Gallery Launches In Worcester
By GBH News, December 17, 2021

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester Art Museum spotlights masterpiece portraits from London gallery
By Nancy Sheehan, December 3, 2021

Arts This Week: Portraits of the changing face of love
By GBH News, December 2, 2021

Spectrum News
'Love Stories' exhibit opens on Saturday at Worcester Art Museum
By Olivia Lemmon, November 13, 2021

Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Faces of love: Worcester Art Museum features works from National Portrait Gallery, London
By Nancy Campbell, November 12, 2021

The Magazine Antiques
Openings and Closings: November 10 to November 16
By Elizabeth Lanza, November 10, 2021

The Boston Globe
Being there, doing that: A dozen exhibits to check out now at museums around New England
By Murray Whyte, October 17, 2021

Selected Images

George Frederic Watts, <i>Ellen Terry ('Choosing')</i>, 1864, oil on strawboard mounted on Gatorfoam
George Frederic Watts, Ellen Terry ('Choosing'), 1864, oil on strawboard mounted on Gatorfoam, 472 x 352 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 1975. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Kenneth Green, <i>Peter Pears; Benjamin Britten</i>, 1943, oil on canvas
Kenneth Green, Peter Pears; Benjamin Britten, 1943, oil on canvas, 715 x 969 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Given by Mrs Mary Behrend, 1973. © National Portrait Gallery, London
George Woodbine, for Daily Herald, <i>The wedding of Nellie Adkins and Ras Prince Monolulu (Peter Carl MacKay)</i>, 21 August, 1931, modern bromide print from original negative
George Woodbine, for Daily Herald, The wedding of Nellie Adkins and Ras Prince Monolulu (Peter Carl MacKay), 21 August, 1931, modern bromide print from original negative, 140 x 192 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Given by Sidney Buckland, 2001. © Science & Society Picture Library / National Portrait Gallery, London
Sir Anthony van Dyck, <i>Venetia, Lady Digby</i>, c. 1633-1634, oil on canvas
Sir Anthony van Dyck, Venetia, Lady Digby, c. 1633-1634, oil on canvas, 1011 x 802 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Purchased with help from the Pilgrim Trust, 1984. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Wim Heldens, <i>Harry Djanogly; Carol Ann Djanogly</i>, 2017, oil on canvas
Wim Heldens, Harry Djanogly; Carol Ann Djanogly, 2017, oil on canvas, 1250 x 1400 mm. National Portrait Gallery, London. Commissioned, 2018. © National Portrait Gallery, London
David Hockney, <i>George and Mary Christie</i>, 2002, Watercolor on 4 sheets of paper
David Hockney, George and Mary Christie, 2002, Watercolor on 4 sheets of paper (24 x 18" each) 48 x 36" overall, © David Hockney. Photo Credit: Prudence Cuming Associates. Collection National Portrait Gallery, London