There’s a flutter of excitement in the Galleries this month, and we’ve chosen a few love stories we’d like to share with you. Warning, not all of them end with happily ever after.

Love Potion

Not all love stories start with love at first sight, often it’s more drama, drama, drama. The tale of Tristan and Iseult begins with Sir Tristan defeating the Irish Knight Morholt and travelling to Ireland to bring back the beautiful Iseult for his uncle, King Mark of Cornwall, to marry.

Somehow along the way, Tristan and Iseult ingest a love potion. This causes the pair to fall madly in love. Various rumours say that the potion’s effects last a lifetime, while others say the potion’s effects wane after three years.

However Iseult, still under the influence, marries Mark. She and Tristan are forced by the potion to seek one another, as lovers. Upon hearing they will be expunged by King Mark for their adulterous affair, the lovers try to escape but, alas, are discovered. They make peace with Mark after Tristan’s agreement to return Iseult of Ireland to him and leave the country. Tristan then travels to Brittany, where he marries (for her name and her beauty) Iseult of the White Hands, daughter of Hoel of Brittany.

Love, betrayal and murder

The story behind John Currie’s ‘The Seamstresses’ is a murky tale. The painting shows two women, both sitting transfixed, staring off the canvas and out of the viewers reach. The dark haired woman reminiscent of Currie’s wife, and the red haired reminiscent of his lover.

Currie had only been married a short time before abandoning his wife and young child for a model, twenty years his junior, named Dolly Henry. Their erratic love affair only lasted a couple of years. In a letter to Dolly, Currie wrote, “This crazy passion has wasted my strength and broken my will.”

On 8th October 1914 Currie made his way to Dolly’s home in Chelsea, he shot her and then turned the gun on himself. His death was not instant, Currie was found by police and taken to hospital. He died the following day, uttering the words, “It was all so ugly.”

John Currie, The Seamstresses (1913). Gift of Sir Michael Sadler, 1923. Image credit University of Leeds.

Third time’s the charm

Poet Robert Burns married the same woman three times. Sort of.  After their first two unions were declared legally dubious, Burns and Jean Armour, also known as “Bonnie Jean”, were married at the third time of asking.

Burns gave this courting ring to Jean in 1786. It features a miniature scene of cottage, tree and windmill. Jean’s father didn’t approve of their relationship, but in spite of that and Burns’ rather well-known infidelities, they remained together until Burns passed away in 1796.