Culture: Laing Displays the Many Varied Aspects of Love; Love Has Inspired Artists Down the Centuries. David Whetstone Views Some of the Results in a New Exhibition

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Byline: David Whetstone

Love is a many-splendored thing (according to the film and song). It is also for cats and dogs (according to Johnny Rotten of The Sex Pistols). One thing's for sure, it's no guarantee of pleasure without pain.

Love is the title of the latest exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.

It is the last in a series of seven themed exhibitions resulting from a partnership involving Tyne & Wear Museums, its Bristol equivalent and the National Gallery, and financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Over the years these exhibitions have brought to Newcastle some of those paintings so famous that we've all seen them - but usually only in books or on the television.

The chance to see them "in the flesh" has brought thousands flocking to the Laing. Love, which opened at the weekend, looks set to be another winner.

If the title makes you go "Ahh", Marc Quinn's marble sculpture of an embracing couple might cause you to do the same. It's a very tender and touching work.

But because it's so heavy, it stands on the ground floor, serving as a shining introduction to the paintings displayed on the floor above.

Quinn's sculptures are classically pure and white but, unlike those of ancient Rome and Greece, they celebrate human imperfection. At first you probably won't notice the man's deformed left arm.

Works by the famous dead - Turner, Vermeer, Goya, Raphael and the Pre-Raphaelites - rub shoulders with the famous living, including Tracey Emin and David Hockney.

Arguably the most intriguing story concerns a painting called Cupid Complaining To Venus (as well he might; the poor lad's being stung by bees all over his pudgy naked body).

This work by the 16th Century German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder was once part of Adolf Hitler's private art collection.

The caption explains that the National Gallery is seeking further information on the history of the painting between 1909, when it was sold in Berlin from the collection of one Emil Goldschmidt, of Frankfurt, and 1945 when it was taken to the United States by an American war correspondent, Patricia Lochridge Hartwell.

Given the number of artworks stolen from Jewish families under the Nazi regime, there are clearly questions still to be answered here.

In the play The Pitmen Painters, the miners of Ashington are desperate for the meaning of art, which their lecturer from Newcastle University can't supply because he says the meaning is subjective.

Not here, it isn't. Some of these paintings are loaded with meaning.

In Vermeer's famous A Young Woman Standing at a Virginal, there's a painting on the wall behind her of Cupid, Roman god of love, holding up a playing card. …