The Art of Rivalry
By Sebastian Smee
In 1956, after attending Jackson Pollock’s funeral, artist Willem de Kooning said: “It’s over. I’m number one.” Then he burst into tears. The American abstract expressionist Pollock, partial to alcohol and fighting, had been killed drink driving. Within a year, de Kooning had started a relationship with his dead rival’s girlfriend, Ruth Kligman. The confounding relationships between artists – friends, enemies, mentors and competitors – come under the scrutiny of Sebastian Smee in The Art of Rivalry. The book dissects four creative partnerships between some of the world’s greatest artists, among them Francis Bacon, who inspired Lucian Freud to be more daring in his art and to stop drawing entirely. Who collected whom is also eye opening: despite Edgar Degas having a trove of works by Édouard Manet, his “friend” didn’t feel the need to return the compliment: after Manet died, no Degas works were found in his private collection. But then, Manet had also mutilated a painting by Degas of Manet and wife Suzanne. Smee’s fourth “couple” are Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, who bounced off and bettered each other in their quest for avant-garde honours. Rivalries don’t come more delicious than these.