Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary - one who was equally ambitious but who possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses. Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde. Jackson Pollock's uninhibited style of "action painting" triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain's most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their intense but asymmetrical friendship came to a head when Freud painted a portrait of Bacon, which was later stolen.
©2016 Sebastian Smee (P)2016 Tantor
"This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read about four important relationships in modern art." (Publishers Weekly Starred Review)
I've sometimes thought that artistic genius forgives all kinds of bad behavior--bad-mouthing, family cruelty, general rudeness, even mild violence. This thoughtful and entertaining book demonstrates that idea. The eight modern artists profiled, geniuses all, do lots of bad things to each other and to third parties. Impossible behavior characterizes Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and to a lesser degree the others.
The author focuses on four sets of contemporaries, friends and rivals each, placing them in their time and culture. Smee's theory on artistic rivalry, each pair benefiting from their ambivalent relationship with each other, makes sense (although I thought he was reaching when he described Pollock and de Kooning). The book is loaded with colorful anecdotes about the artists and their circles.
Readers who like modern art or painting generally will enjoy this book very much.
I found the story and writing well-researched and engaging. Bob Souer's reading was excellent with the exception of his French words and phrases, of which there were many in the book. He was so far off in his guesses, and inconsistent that I had to look the names up elsewhere. It was laughable for example when the "Salon d'Automne" was read as "Salon de Thon" which means the Salon of Tuna.
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