5 Phrases To Understand The Greatest Friendships In The Art World

5 Phrases To Understand The Greatest Friendships In The Art World

By: Josue Brocca -

Surrealism stemmed out of friendships such as that of Dalí and Buñuel. Both explored the limits of the cinematic form through the revolutionary film Un chien andalou (1929). It paved the way for a more experimental aspect of artistic expression that had not been so viscerally captured by the avant-garde movements. However, their relationship eventually got into a rut from which they never recovered. Their case proves that friendship is, in its own self, a source for creation to push against the boundaries of our artistic expression. They proved that two minds think better than one. There have been several relationships that have resulted in groundbreaking artworks and movements, because each party has inspired the other.

Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet

“Everything [Manet] does always hits off straightaway, while I take endless pains and never get it right.” 

Edgar Degas

Manet and Degas met at the Museé du Louvre in Paris in 1862 while the latter was trying to paint an imitation of Velázquez' Las Meninas into a copper plate. From that moment on, they would become friends, and Manet's success became a model for Degas, who followed his advice of leaving his historical genre paintings behind and focusing on more interesting subjects.

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Édouard Manet seated, turned to the right (1864–65), Edgar Degas

Afterwards, his career veered into studying the female form, particularly graceful ballet dancers, working-class women, and even the speed-ridden world of horse racing. Even though Degas considered Manet as a mentor, friction came into their relationship after he did a portrait of Manet and his wife. When Degas visited the artist another time, he realized that the part of the painting that depicted Mme. Manet playing the piano had been stabbed and deleted by her husband. Outraged by the sight, Degas stormed out of their place, having the intention of fixing the painting he had given to the couple. After some time, the two of them managed to surpass their differences. Nonetheless, Degas never did get to restore the image. The feud between both artists is represented by the blank space that severs the image of Manet and his wife.

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Édouard Manet and Mme. Manet (1868-69), Edgar Degas

Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso

“Only one person has the right to criticize me. That is Picasso.”

—Henri Matisse

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The Joy of Life (1906), Henri Matisse

Picasso and Matisse met in 1906 through the writer and art collector Gertrude Stein. On a first impression they really didn't like each other's work. However, each of them saw potential in the other one's style. After their meeting, they kept an eye on what the other one was doing, raising the bar against each other. For instance, Picasso decided to abandon a project called The Watering Place after seeing his counterpart's The Joy of Life (1906) because it considered it more luscious and radical. Likewise, according to the art critic Sebastian Smee, Matisse's Blue Nude: Memory of Biskra made Picasso rethink and improve his work over The Young Ladies of Avignon in 1907.

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The Young Ladies of Avignon (1907), Pablo Picasso

Picasso once even stated that to truly grasp the essence of the art of the twentieth century, one must only see his works and Matisse's side by side. The influence that the one had over the other spanned throughout the years. When Picasso started his cubist phase by the beginning of the 1910s, Matisse responded with the abstract painting of Madame Matisse (1913), which the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire considered had reinvented voluptuousness in painting. Picasso answered the following year with his Portrait of a Young Lady (1914). The artists drifted apart throughout the next two decades. However, the dialogue between them rekindled in the forties, after Matisse started experimenting with paper cut-outs and Picasso started to take this esthetic into sculpture. To Matisse, both artists knew things that no one could ever talk about. Despite their differences, their creative admiration for each other kept on the revolutionary engines of modern art running throughout the years.

Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock

"Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cézanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again."

— Willem de Kooning

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Number 17A (1948), Jackson Pollock

The creative relationship between De Kooning and Pollock was one of mutual admiration but also constant rivalry. In contrast to the rest of the members of the New York School, the Dutch painter never limited himself to the restrictions of pure abstract expressionism, something Pollock defended vigorously. However, despite De Kooning's interest for figurative painting and mixing the raw color of abstract expressionism with the study of form, he truly admired Pollock's interest of creating a new type of painting. Nevertheless, whilst Pollock was able to create a new era of painting, De Kooning did not admire how static and continuous his style was, and even called a him a sellout once. Because of this, they were often considered rivals and people would even pick sides between them. Once, Pollock acutely described the differences between each other's work, "You know more," he told de Kooning, "but I feel more."

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Woman I (1950-52), Willem de Kooning

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud

"[Bacon's] work impressed me, but his personality affected me."

—Lucian Freud

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Three Studies for a Portrait of Lucian Freud (1965), Francis Bacon

Bacon and Freud met through another artist by the name Graham Sutherland, who introduced them in 1945. Throughout their careers, they painted several portraits of each other, showing their bizarre friendship. Each had a very different conception of painting in terms of form, but they also coincided in their raw visceral approach to art. While Freud had quite a pencil for drawing and depicting the slightest detail in form, Bacon had a very expressive brushstroke and a grotesque palette with a brutal force. Bacon's portraits of Freud are much less flattering than their counterparts', which express the dark, complex emotions that the artist constantly channeled against his friend. In spite of the toxic side of their friendship, Freud held Bacon dear almost to the end of his life, and just one year before his death, he started a campaign to retrieve his 1951 portrait of Bacon that got stolen in Berlin in the late eighties. Sadly, the painting never resurfaced.

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Portrait of Francis Bacon (1951), Lucian Freud

Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

[Basquiat]’s just one of those kids who drives me crazy…

—Andy Warhol, Diaries , October, 4, 1982

One of contemporary art's most well-known friendships didn't start on good terms. Warhol and Basquiat were introduced by Bruno Bischofberger, and from day one they started doing work together. However, at first, Warhol wasn't sure if their collaboration would lead to anything good. The routine between both artists would start with as follows: first, Warhol would silkscreen one of his typical logos from a famous brand into a canvas, and afterwards, Basquiat would write and paint viciously over it.

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Untitled: General Electric II (1984-5), Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat

Through their collaborations, Warhol and the young black painter became close. Yet, they eventually hit a rocky spot and grew apart until the pop artist's death, which has often been considered as one of the reasons that sank Basquiat into the drug frenzy that led to his untimely death at the age of 26.

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