The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee


A novel I read recently had a character claim that all non-fiction books sell based upon the strength of their subtitle and Smee’s is a pretty good place to start. This work looks at 4 pairs of modern artists (Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, Bacon and Freud, DeKooning and Pollock) to analyse how their relationships affected both their own art and impacted the trajectory of the art world more generally

I had a feeling before I even picked this one up that I would love it. And I was right.

The bookstore where I currently work has a beautifully curated art/design/fashion section and I was eager to dive in headfirst as I haven’t studied art history since Uni a few years back.

The Art of Rivalry has the perfect combination of illuminating details, a fascinating hypothesis and a healthy dose of juicy gossip. For instance, take a look at this amazing tidbit about painter (and grandson of Sigmund) Lucien Freud:

Thus, finding himself in the unusual position of having been involved sexually not only with the bride but also the groom and the groom’s mother, it’s no surprise, perhaps, that Freud chose to stay away from the festivities. (pg 25)

What would his grandfather have to say about that? A lot, I imagine.

Probably of considerably less interest to those who haven’t already studied at least a bit of (modern) art history, this is a fascinating, entertaining and, for me at least, a whole different look at some of the artists I already admire. Highly recommended.


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