[ART] Famous Artist Couples


With Valentine’s Day around the corner, let’s talk about some famous artist couples! And let’s pair that with some fun facts about their relationships.


1.  Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

“Frida Kahlo first met Diego Rivera when she was an art student hoping to get advice on her career from the famous Mexican muralist. Although Rivera was married, a courtship ensued. They wed in 1929 (he was 42, she was 22) much to the disapproval of Frida’s parents, who referred to the couple as “the elephant and the dove.” With volatile tempers and countless infidelities, the marriage was notoriously tumultuous. The couple divorced in 1939 only to remarry a year later, though the second marriage was just as turbulent as the first. Both have long been recognized as important painters who achieved great international popularity during their lifetimes.”

source: http://www.biography.com/people/groups/frida-kahlo-and-diego-rivera

“Their marriage was turbulent–Kahlo had affairs with the likes of Isamu Noguchi as well as Josephine Baker–and the couple divorced in 1939.  In 1940, they got back together, but lived in separate homes until Kahlo died at age 47. Rivera wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic of his life and he would forever regret not loving her enough.”

source: http://untied.net/famous-artists-divorced/

Diego openly respected Frida for her art, saying:

“Frida Kahlo is the greatest Mexican painter. Her work is destined to be multiplied by reproductions and will speak, thanks to books, to the whole world. It is one of the most formidable artistic documents and most intense testimonies on human truth of our time.”

source: http://www.robinurton.com/history/frida-y-diego.htm


2.  Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner

“Krasner and Pollock maintained a roller-coaster relationship that began with their involvement in “American and French Paintings” and continued for fourteen years until Pollock’s death in 1956. They shared an intense passion for, and commitment to, art. They also maintained a lifelong mutual respect for each other’s work. However, that is where their similarities end. A fiercely independent and determined woman, Krasner served as the rock that held Pollock, a troubled alcoholic, afloat.”

source: http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/krasner-lee

“She and Pollock met at a party; he was drunk when he approached her. (At the age of 24, he was already an alcoholic.) She later recalled,

“I was terribly drawn to Jackson, and I fell in love with him — physically, mentally — in every sense of the word.”

By the time they were married, in 1945, his drinking had steadily increased, yet she was endlessly nurturing. “Krasner was Pollock’s facilitator in the world,” Levin writes. “She was also his cheerleader, guardian, and secretary.””

source: http://forward.com/culture/136591/out-of-the-shadow-of-pollock-lee-krasner-defies-th/#ixzz3xl1BiEPc

Their marriage lasted 11 years.


3.  Elaine and Willem “Bill” de Kooning

“Elaine and Willem de Kooning endured a long and, at times, very tumultuous marriage. As much as each artist benefited from one another’s paintings and teachings, they mutually suffered due to constant infidelities and struggles with alcoholism.”

source: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-de-kooning-elaine.htm

“Ms. de Kooning’s curator and the co-executor of her estate, Edvard Lieber, provided these unpublished notes of her description of their first meeting:

“The first night I visited Bill in 1937, the studio, like his face, had a sea-swept look. It was immaculate, immense, and luxuriously sparse.”

She was soon living with de Kooning, learning how to paint finely detailed, almost Dutch, still lifes under his tutelage. “He seduced her,” Mr. Resnick said, “by teaching her art.” ‘She Worshiped Bill’

They were married in 1943 and remained legally married until her death from lung cancer, although a separation from 1957 to 1975 interrupted their love story.

“Her life had its ups and downs, but the basic thing is that she loved this man,” Ms. Schapiro said. “She was motivated by something very pure and wonderful.”

The sculptor Phillip Pavia, who knew them both well, said: “She worshiped Bill. She did more to help Bill’s career than anyone and always gave more than she got.””

source: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/11/21/nyregion/shining-a-light-on-the-other-de-kooning.html?pagewanted=all

“The 46-year marriage of solitary, depressive Willem de Kooning, the Dutch-born American abstract expressionist, and gregarious, ebullient painter-critic Elaine Fried was a spiral of competition marked by sexual infidelities, fights and squalid alcoholism on both sides. Hall ( Betty Parsons ) claims the union, strained by an 18-year separation, nurtured the development of their personalities and art…”

source: Publisher’s Weekly: http://www.amazon.com/Elaine-Bill-Portrait-Marriage-Kooning/dp/0060183055


4.  Mary Abbott and Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning also had a relationship with Mary Abbott.

” In 1948, she met the sculptor David Hare, who introduced her to Willem de Kooning whose studio was nearby. Abbott eventually became romantically involved with de Kooning and remained close until his death.”

source: http://www.thomasmccormick.com/artists/mary_abbott

“Mary Abbott’s strong personal and professional relationship with de Kooning influenced his output to an astonishing degree.”

source: http://bigthink.com/articles/mary-abbott-a-wake-up-call

“In the late 1940’s, Abbott began an important affair with William de Kooning, “the love of my life.””

source: http://raggedclothcafe.com/2007/04/22/mary-abbott-abstract-expressionist-by-clairan-ferrono/

“1949 Meets Mary Abbott; begins affair which extends intermittently until the mid-1950s”

source: http://dekooningexperts.com/de_kooning_chrono.html


5.  Mary and Lee Blair

In 1931, Lee Blair attended the prominent Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles where he met Mary.

Both artists worked for Disney Animation Studios.

“Lee described his courtship with Mary as “she followed me from studio to studio” – pursuing him until he finally married her.
Chuck Jones was something of a nemesis for Lee because of a remark Chuck made about Mary years and years ago. Lee and Chuck worked at either Iwerks or Harmon/Ising at the same time. Chuck was attracted to Mary, but she liked Lee.”

source: http://www.flipanimation.net/flipfissue4.htm

“Sometime between 1947 -1950, Blair moved to Great Neck, New York with Mary and started Film/TV Graphics Inc., a dual advertising company. Through this joint husband and wife partnership they went on to produce animated, training and educational films along with television commercials.”

source: http://www.sullivangoss.com/lee_Blair/

“I was absolutely astonished to read about the rocky marriage and difficult times with alcohol that Lee and Mary experienced. Though I see plenty of evidence of that now, back then they seemed to be very happy, very devoted to one another, and very pleasant to be around. During my relationship to the Blairs, Lee was always attentive to Mary’s needs and now I wonder if that was his way of apologizing for the past.”

source: http://www.flipanimation.net/flipfissue4.htm


6.  Jacob Lawrence and Gwendolyn “Gwen” Knight

“The two African American artists met and wed in Harlem in 1941 and later built national reputations as painters and printmakers, and as art educators and activists.”

source: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5120

“Married to Jacob Lawrence for 59 years, Gwen Knight Lawrence was also a lifelong artist and her husband’s most highly valued critic.”

source: http://www.jacobandgwenlawrence.org/artandlife05.html

“Jacob recalled his first impression of Gwen being that she was a serious artist. She had a love for all the arts — dance, music, and visual arts. She had studied for a time at Howard University, and thus was able to bring an academic perspective as well as a working-artist view to her discussions of art. Jacob said, “In our life together we share our opinions but reserve them until one or the other of us is ready to discuss the work. Once we’ve commented on each other’s work we were free to choose whether or not we make changes based on those comments. There really was no pressure. Sometimes you wouldn’t even understand a remark until years later.””

source: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5120

“One could describe their partnership as a collaborative relationship, inspiring and stimulating each other in their artistic endeavors.”

source: http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/bios/knight-bio.htm

Overall, Gwen remarks:

“My life with Jacob allowed me to work as I pleased. I’ve never felt overlooked. I’ve been lucky.”

source: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5120


7.  Helen Frankenthaler and Robert “Bob” Motherwell

“When she separated from Greenberg, she met Robert Motherwell and married him in 1958. He  was also from a well-to-do family, and they were suddenly the “golden couple” of the artworld. They spent months honeymooning in Spain and France.”

source: http://vickiemartin.net/helen-frankenthaler/

“…they spent several months after the wedding touring France and Spain, then living high on the hog mixing with America’s finest.”

source: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2011/dec/28/helen-frankenthaler

Helen and Robert met through the art world and, although they were in the same circles, it took awhile before they got to know one another.

In an interview, Helen describes how she and Motherwell (aka Bob) got to know each other:

“And I hung up the phone finally and headed for the door, late for some place. And the phone rang and I went back and he said, this is [inaudible],  how would you like to have dinner. And I did. And I said I wanted to go to the Castelli Gallery. And we did.
And I had had this very neurotic drama with Pollock and was very upset and crying and said to Bob, do you mind, I want to get out of there, the gallery was packed. And he said, no, let’s go some place to drink. And I said I don’t want to go any place where there are waiters, people, noise. Would you mind coming back to the house? I lived on 94th and West Broadway. Let’s go there and have a drink.
And we sat and talked all night long about what life is like in a way that most people would think that profound adolescents might. But it was a sort of very accurate and real but fantasy night of this is the way life is, this is the way I think it could be made, these are the problems, these are things I don’t know about and wonder about, these are the horrors of experience. And there was a fantastic recognition and a permanent road into each other. And it developed from there. We were married in April but we still celebrate December 15.”

source: http://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/interviews/oral-history-interview-helen-frankenthaler-12171

Their marriage lasted for 13 years.


8.  Jan Miense Molenaer and Judith Leyster

“both belonged in their youth to the circle of Frans Hals. He and his wife probably collaborated and sometimes it is difficult to differentiate their hands.” source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/artists/jan-miense-molenaer

“While their wedding in 1636 officially recognized the relationship between Molenaer and Leyster, the couple’s artistic courtship certainly predated their nuptials by more than half a decade.”

source: “Jan Miense Molenaer: Painter of the Dutch Golden Age” By Dennis P. Weller, Mariët Westermann, Cynthia von Bogendorf Rupprath

They had five children.

9.  Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Steiglitz


“From 1915 until 1946, some 25,000 pieces of paper were exchanged between two major 20th-century artists. Painter Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Alfred Stieglitz wrote each other letters — sometimes two and three a day, some of them 40 pages long.”

source: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/21/138467808/stieglitz-and-okeeffe-their-love-and-life-in-letters

“When Stieglitz and O’Keeffe met in 1916, he was 52 and famous — an internationally acclaimed photographer, with an avant-garde gallery in Manhattan. She, on the other hand, was 28 and unknown.”

source: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/21/138467808/stieglitz-and-okeeffe-their-love-and-life-in-letters

“O’Keeffe decides to move to New York, and before she arrives, Stieglitz writes to her on May 26, 1918:

“What do I want from you? — … Sometimes I feel I’m going stark mad — That I ought to say — Dearest — You are so much to me that you must not come near me — Coming may bring you darkness instead of light — And it’s in Everlasting light that you should live.””

source: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/21/138467808/stieglitz-and-okeeffe-their-love-and-life-in-letters

“Stieglitz was Georgia’s most avid supporter…arranging shows, and selling her paintings.”

source: http://www.ellensplace.net/okeeffe3.html


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