Compare this image to Robert’s earlier series about lovers, “A Seal Upon Thine Heart.” In the earlier series, there is a strong feeling of compulsion, bewilderment, loss of control, even at times a feeling of antagonism, as if a battle of love is being waged between the man and woman. In Hug, there is none of this. Instead, the love depicted is one of compassion, empathy and loyalty through difficult circumstances. The medical apparatus adds a note of awkwardness to an otherwise intimate scene and suggests the couple are in a hospital playing out an important private moment on a public stage.
Illness both divides the couple and strengthens the bond between them. Robert is able to convey this idea by the way the I-V pole divides the composition in half, with the female patient placed on one side and her husband in street clothes on the other. The drip-line delivering the intravenous solution loops behind the pole and entangles the two figures together. And yet the figures behave as if none of this is even present. The background is left blank, a hospital green on one side and darkness on the other. Robert made many studies for this image and tried out three different pairs of models, starting with his parents, William and Isabel, who feature in an earlier painting, Solarium. The physical embrace conveys the sense that no one wants to let go or lose the other. In no other painting has Robert been so successful in communicating the idea that illness affects the caregiver and family as much as it does the patient.