An exploration of the relationships among eight artists who were friends, mentors, and/or rivals and the particular incidents that changed their lives.
It may have been a portrait sitting, an exchange of works, a studio visit, or the opening of an exhibition. However they came to pass, writes Pulitzer Prize–winning Boston Globe art critic Smee (Nonfiction Writing/Wellesley Coll.; Freud, 2015, etc.), these relationships greatly affected the psyches of some of the greatest artists of their time. Some have cast them as rivals, others as enemies, but the author rejects many of these opinions. Francis Bacon’s influence on Lucian Freud helped loosen his style, and Jackson Pollock’s works drove Willem de Kooning to open up his manner of creation. All were undeniable talents, and their abilities were changed significantly by these relationships. However, none of them was ever an acolyte (imagine Pablo Picasso ever admitting anyone was better than he). Henri Matisse said it best in that he could never tolerate rivals, but he thrived in their presence. They all sought radical originality, and each man’s art was affected by lovers, successes, and failures, as well as hard drinking and brave collectors of modern art like Peggy Guggenheim and Gertrude and Sarah Stein. Would Edgar Degas ever have moved out into Paris’ streets without Edouard Manet’s urging ,or would Picasso ever have moved to cubism without the specter of Matisse’s maturity and pressure? In addition to digging into these intimate relationships, Smee explains their work in in an accessible way. He clearly and vividly explains the monumental effect each man had on modern art, from Manet’s daring Olympia to Pollock’s Number 1.
Smee takes readers deep into the beginnings of modern art in a way that not only enlightens, but also builds a stronger appreciation of the influences that created the environment that fostered its development.