Shortlisted for the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award (non-fiction)
Genius, friend, rival: this is the story of four pairs of artists whose intense relationships spurred and shaped their art.
Matisse and Picasso. Manet and Degas. Bacon and Freud. De Kooning and Pollock. Eight of the most significant modern artists; four pairs linked by friendship and a shared spirit of competitiveness. But in each case the relationship had a flashpoint, a damaging psychological event that seemed to mark both an end and a beginning, a break that led to audacious creative innovations.
Absorbing, informed and provocative, Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry takes us to heart of each of these relationships. It offers revelatory insights into the ways in which these major artists influenced and changed each other—and into their ultimate quest ‘to be unique, original, inimitable; to acquire the solitude, the singularity, of greatness’.
‘It made me laugh and it made me think.’ Wendy Whiteley, Australian Financial Review
In this beautifully written book, Pulitzer Prize winning art critic Smee (Lucian Freud) explores the dramatic relationships between Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, douard Manet and Edgar Degas, and Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Concerned with "yielding, intimacy, and openness to influence" more than pure rivalry, Smee provides a concise biography of each pair, highlighting the similarities and differences between their lives, philosophies, and personalities. This illuminating text draws connections between the pairs (the personal tension between Degas and Manet is, for example, similar to that between Freud and Bacon) and cleverly links events in the artist's lives, such as two parallel tragedies within Matisse and Picasso's close families, and Freud's and Bacon's separate though similarly intense and devastating love affairs. This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read about four important relationships in modern art.