From time-to-time, artists have let their egos get the best of them. They call each other out on canvases, or in the public arena, or even go so far as to cut off a limb or two. That being said, some of the most iconic artistic mash-ups have produced major successes while others simply combust.
It would appear Michelangelo and Raphael are only friends in the context of pizza loving, crime fighting, Mutant Ninja Turtles.
The major contributors to the Italian High Renaissance were not friends. The schism between the Old Masters all started when Pope Julius II selected Raphael to paint a series of frescoes in various rooms of the Vatican palace. Raphael’s most famous fresco, School of Athens (1509-1511), was placed in the ‘Stanza della Segnatura,’ aka the Pope’s private library.
The School of Athens by Raphael (1509-1511)
The youthful, 26-year-old had bested a group of competitors including Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. Michelangelo didn’t take kindly to losing the commission to some childish, nobody from Urbino. He already openly despised peers like da Vinci so it’s only natural that Raphael landed a place on the artist’s shit list.
Image via Giphy
Both of the men were working on respective projects within the Vatican at the same time. Raphael had his collection of frescoes to get to, and an embroiled Michelangelo was tasked with painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel (1508-1512).
‘Heraclitus’ in Raphael’s School of Athens [Believed to be modeled after Michelangelo].
Painting the Sistine Chapel was hardly a second rate job, but Michelangelo was still pissed. He even accused Raphael of plagiarism. The younger painter shaded Michelangelo right back. It is believed that Raphael rendered Heraclitus, “The Weeping Philosopher,” to match Michelangelo’s likeness. Honey, if the shoe fits…The cry baby, Heraclitus, sits in the foreground, isolated from the other important figures in the fresco. Pretty solid burn.
Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin’s relationship was filled with passion and ended with bodily harm.
The Painter of Sunflowers (Portrait of Vincent van Gogh) by Paul Gauguin (1888)
Paul Gauguin (Man in a Red Beret) by Vincent van Gogh (1888)
The Dutch and French, post-impressionists, formed a friendship and collaborated for a short period of time. van Gogh became super, super needy. He kept asking Gauguin to visit him in Arles, so they could paint together in his “Yellow House.” The “Yellow House” was one of the artist’s biggest obsession. He wanted to turn his home into a sort of artist colony and was eager to have Gauguin and other members of the avant-garde join him. In hindsight, the “Yellow House” was more like a suspicious white van.
The Yellow House by Vincent van Gogh (1888)
After countless invitations, Gauguin finally caved and agreed to visit van Gogh in 1888. For 9-weeks, Gauguin fulfilled van Gogh’s deep, (dark), desire to paint and collaborate together.
Image via Giphy
Overnight, their relationship went from happy Sunflowers to deadly nightshade. Gauguin refused to drink van Gogh’s “Yellow House” kool-aid and van Gogh lost his damn mind. The end of the friendship also marked the end of van Gogh’s left ear, which he severed in a fit of rage. Yikes.
The ‘rivalry’ between Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso was more so a friendly competition and collaboration.
Matisse compared their relationship to a “boxing match,” that began with Picasso imitating the older artist’s work. Imitation isn’t always the sincerest form of flattery. At first, Picasso’s intentions were to mock Matisse’s chaotic paintings, but this ended when his taunting mimicry led to a creative breakthrough.
Le bonheur de vivre by Henri Matisse (1906)
Picasso was inspired by Matisse’s uninhibited use of color and fauvist style. The mix of vivid, unnatural colors, and whimsically abstracted figures in paintings such as Le bonheur de vivre (1906) captured Picasso’s attention. The artist incorporated the Frenchman’s eccentric aesthetic into many of his own paintings like Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907).
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Pablo Picasso (1907)
Matisse and Picasso held a lifelong friendship and, as early modernist painters, continued to influence each others’ work.
A classic tale of toxic, codependency. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon weren’t rivals, per se. Instead, they enabled each other’s bad behavior and made great art in the process.
Francis Bacon (Portrait) by Lucian Freud (1952)
The ‘Bonnie and Clyde’-duo were in a group of figurative artists who became known as, “The School of London.” The unhealthy relationship they maintained included a variety of vices from infidelities to drunk driving.
Bacon frequently lent Freud money, which Freud would use to fuel a wicked gambling addiction. In turn, Freud pretended to ignore Bacon’s severe alcohol-fueled benders, which often left Freud and other colleagues terrified — especially when riding shotgun in Bacon’s car.
You’d think Freud, the grandson of Sigmund Freud (founder of psychoanalysis), would have at least a bit of self-awareness, but nope.
Many of the poor decisions led — as they often do — to negative consequences. For example, the end of Freud’s marriage.
Three Studies of Lucian Freud by Francis Bacon
When all is said and done, though, Freud and Bacon shared many successes. Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), sold for $142.4 million at auction, breaking the previous record for most expensive artwork ever purchased.
Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol had a lot in common. The pair had staunch Catholic upbringings, they were both gay, and they were both incredibly ambitious Pop Artists.
Andy Warhol by Robert Mapplethorpe (1986)
Warhol had already become the ‘Patron Saint of Pop’ long before Mapplethorpe’s rise to fame in the art world. The two men were generations apart, but Mapplethorpe was dead set on gaining recognition and acceptance from Warhol and the wider public.
Patti Smith writes in her autobiography:
“Robert often said he knew Andy’s game, and felt that if he could talk to him, Andy would recognise him as an equal.”
Mapplethorpe didn’t want to be just another nameless member of Warhol’s factory or even one of Warhol’s superstars. He wanted Warhol to consider him a peer.
Robert Mapplethorpe by Andy Warhol (1983)
It’s worth noting that it’s difficult to find notorious instances of feuds, rivalries, and strained relationships among female artists. Perhaps this is because they have better things to do than indulge in pointless competition.