The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee
Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art

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Smee takes readers deep into the beginnings of modern art in a way that not only enlightens, but also builds a stronger appreciation of the influences that created the environment that fostered its development.
-Kirkus

Synopsis

Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists—Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon—whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights.

Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary—one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde. Jackson Pollock’s uninhibited style of “action painting” triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. After Pollock’s sudden death in a car crash, de Kooning assumed Pollock's mantle and became romantically involved with his late friend’s mistress. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain’s most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their intense but asymmetrical friendship came to a head when Freud painted a portrait of Bacon, which was later stolen.

Each of these relationships culminated in an early flashpoint, a rupture in a budding intimacy that was both a betrayal and a trigger for great innovation. Writing with the same exuberant wit and psychological insight that earned him a Pulitzer Prize for art criticism, Sebastian Smee explores here the way that coming into one’s own as an artist—finding one’s voice—almost always involves willfully breaking away from some intimate’s expectations of who you are or ought to be.

Advance praise for The Art of Rivalry

“A fresh and fruitful approach to art history . . . [Sebastian] Smee’s double portraits are deeply moving, even haunting in their investigations of artistic and emotional symbioses of incalculable intricacy and consequence.”—Booklist (starred review)

“Beautifully written . . . This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read about four important relationships in modern art.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Art of Rivalry gives us a remarkable and engrossing book on pretty much the whole of art.”—Adam Gopnik, author of Paris to the Moon and The Table Comes First

“This is a magnificent book on the relationships at the roots of artistic genius. Smee offers a gripping tale of the fine line between friendship and competition, tracing how the ties that torment us most are often the ones that inspire us most.”—Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Timesbestselling author of Originals and Give and Take
 

About Sebastian Smee

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SEBASTIAN SMEE is the art critic of the Boston Globe. He was a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2011 and a finalist in 2009. His writing about art has appeared in many of the leading papers in Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. He has given lectures about art at many major universites and institutions, including Harvard, Yale, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Author Residence: Boston, MA
Author Hometown: Australia
 
Published August 16, 2016 by Random House. 416 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction
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Critic reviews for The Art of Rivalry
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Kirkus

Good
on May 18 2016

Smee takes readers deep into the beginnings of modern art in a way that not only enlightens, but also builds a stronger appreciation of the influences that created the environment that fostered its development.

Read Full Review of The Art of Rivalry: Four Frie... | See more reviews from Kirkus

NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by Prudence Peiffer on Sep 16 2016

I finished the Pollock/de Kooning chapter with no real sense of how their combustible friendship, skillfully parsed by Smee, had any specific bearing on each one’s painting. There is plenty of good background here, but no breakthroughs.

Read Full Review of The Art of Rivalry: Four Frie... | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Good
Reviewed by John Williams on Aug 21 2016

You leave this book both nourished and hungry for more about the art, its creators and patrons, and the relationships that seed the ground for moments spent at the canvas.

Read Full Review of The Art of Rivalry: Four Frie... | See more reviews from NY Times

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