No man is an island, and humankind thrives on connections and friendships which help us to grow, find joy, and ultimately survive. Artists are no different.
Networking and “who you know” in the art world might feel like a distinctly modern problem, but artists through the ages have formed mini-communities and partnerships with each other in order to get ahead, get support, and (in some cases) get into each other’s pants.
Here are a handful of artists who were besties, gal pals, and frenemies. Can you picture some of them in the same room? Us neither.
Van Gogh and Gauguin
Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gaugin’s relationship was a turbulent one in which Gaugin a fiery, unempathetic type, and Van Gogh a sympathetic oddball. Van Gogh’s first encounter with Gaugin was purchasing one of Gaugin’s paintings together with his brother, Theo: to Van Gogh, Gaugin was an idol. The pair lived together in the famous Yellow House in Arles for 63 days in 1888. The two artists lived together for only 63 days, which were filled with arguments and tensions. . A violent fight between the two would lead to the infamous incident in which Van Gogh cut off part of his left ear in distress, giving it to a prostitute whom he visited regularly. Gaugin and Van Gogh did not see each other again after this event, but did send letters.
Basquiat and Warhol
The friendship / mentorship of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol benefitted both parties, as described by Victor Bockris: “The relationship was symbiotic. Jean-Michel thought he needed Andy’s fame, and Andy thought he needed Jean-Michel’s new blood. Jean-Michel gave Andy a rebellious image again.” The two had met at a dinner party in 1980, and went on to produce over 200 works together.
Freud and Bacon
For a quarter of a decade, the two British painters saw each other almost every day. Lady Caroline Blackwood, Freud’s second wife, wrote in her memoir that Bacon had dinner at their house “nearly every night for more of less the whole of my marriage to Lucian”. Thy spent their time painting together and gambling at the Gargoyle Club in London. They were deeply critical of each other’s work and argued bitterly, and the contrast between their personalities (Bacon thought of Freud as a bit of a snob) ultimately ended their friendship.
Kahlo and O’Keeffe
Despite Georgia O’Keeffe being almost twice Frida Kahlo’s age, the pair became dedicated penpals following meeting in New York. They met at the 1931 opening of Diego Rivera’s solo show at the Met, and Rivera apparently bragged to his friends that Kahlo had been flirting with O’Keeffe. There is written record of the two artists getting drunk in a Mexican restaurant together, and Kahlo visited O’Keeffe when she was in hospital in 1933. It’s not clear whether or not the pair were sleeping together, but flirtatious vibes were certainly in the air.
Picasso and Matisse
Matisse said “when one of us goes, there are things the other will no longer be able to say to anyone” – which demonstrates just how close the pair were. The French painter Françoise Gilot, who was Picasso’s partner at the time, said that no one “meant quite as much to him as Matisse”. The pair spent a lot of time together, but still had many disagreements due to Picasso’s much more active force compared to Matisse’s passive sturdiness. Matisse gifted Pablo four pigeons which featured many times in his work.
Other unlikely artist friendships that we stan: Dalí and Duchamp, Kusama and Hesse, Mondrian and Hoch, and Pissarro and Cézanne.
Author: Verity Babbs