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Artist Couples: For Better or For Worse?
Major Questions in Art History
29.05.2020 | Nina Meisel

Frida Kahlo, Le bus, 1929, oil on canvas, 26 x 55.5 cm, © DeAgostini/Leemage, © ADAGP, Paris

In the history of art, many artist couples have made their mark, such as Anna-Eva Bergman (1909-1987) and Hans Hartung (1904-1989), Sonia and Robert Delaunay (1885-1941), and Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889-1943) and Jean Arp (1886-1966). Artistic exchanges and rivalries are apparent in these creative duos.

Relationships may arise from mutual admiration between students and teachers. The relationship between Camille Claudel (1864-1943) and Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) was the source of great inspiration. However, history remembers C. Claudel as the pupil of the great master. Opened in Nogent-sur-Seine in 2017, the Musée Camille Claudel portrays the importance of the sculptor’s work, setting it apart from that of her lover. The career of Dora Maar (1907-1997) stayed in the shadow of her relationship with Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) for a long time, and it has been her status as lover and muse rather than that of artist, that has passed into posterity. Rarely do women take the dominant position in these associations, but there are unions in which roles are reversed. For example, King Partridge (1888-1984) was a model for Imogen Cunningham (1883-1976), and it was the naked body of the engraver that led the female photographer to revolutionize the nude.

These alliances were driven by shared artistic and political struggles. This was the case for Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and Diego Rivera (1886-1957): their common militancy and folklorist aspirations were reflected in their works. Contrary to other stories, F. Kahlo’s fame seems independent of that of her husband. Visual artist Nancy Holt (1938-2014) and Land Art ambassador Robert Smithson (1938-1973) collaborated between 1963 and 1973, a time during which she immortalized her husband’s work in the Nevada desert in five films. Involved in the movement, N. Holt became its sole female representative but remained lesser known than her husband and colleagues.

These shared approaches sometimes gave rise to creations made by couples, such as the advertising brochure Électricité – emblem of Surrealism – for which Lee Miller (1907-1977) and Man Ray (1890-1976) joined forces to work together. This was also the case for Claude Cahun (1894-1954) and her partner Marcel Moore (1892-1972) who worked together to produce Surrealist collages. For others, creativity collided and blended while maintaining their individual identities, as for Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002) and Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) who worked both individually and together ,and collaborated for some of their most important undertakings, such as the Cyclope in the Milly Forest (1969-1979) and the Jardin des tarots in Garavicchio de Pescia Fiorentina, Italy. Sometimes, the couple can stifle each other’s creativity ; thus Jacqueline Lamba (1910-1993) separated from André Breton (1996-1966) in order “to be able to paint”.

Some duos were anchored in creative universes and participated together in the life of the artistic movements of which they were a part of. For example, photographers Grete Stern (1904-1999) and Horacio Coppola (1906-2012) hosted the first exhibition of the Madi group, while painter Marlow Moss (1889-1958) and author Antoinette H. Nijhoff (1897-1971) surrounded themselves with the Abstraction-Création group.

Exhibitions have paid tribute to these intertwined destinies: in pairs, with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in L’art en fusion (2014) at the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, or in group exhibitions, Couples modernes (2018) at the Centre Pompidou-Metz. Unfortunately, this vision of the creative couple is still too heterogeneous and leaves little room for lesbian couples or less traditional relationships.

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1864 — 1943 | France
Camille Claudel - AWARE

Camille Claudel

1907 — 1997 | France
Dora Maar - AWARE

Dora Maar

1907 — 1954 | Mexico
Frida Kahlo - AWARE

Frida Kahlo

1930 — France | 2002 — United States
Niki de Saint Phalle - AWARE

Niki de Saint Phalle

1907 — United States | 1977 — United Kingdom
Lee Miller - AWARE

Lee Miller

1938 — 2014 | United States
Nancy Holt - AWARE

Nancy Holt

1910 — 1993 | France
Jacqueline Lamba - AWARE

Jacqueline Lamba

1904 — Germany | 1999 — Argentina
Grete Stern - AWARE

Grete Stern

1890 — 1958 | United Kingdom
Marlow Moss - AWARE

Marlow Moss

1889 — 1943 | Switzerland
Sophie Taeuber-Arp - AWARE

Sophie Taeuber-Arp

1909 — Sweden | 1987 — France
Anna-Eva Bergman - AWARE

Anna-Eva Bergman

1883 — 1976 | United States
Imogen Cunningham - AWARE

Imogen Cunningham

1894 — France | 1954 — Jersey
Claude Cahun - AWARE

Claude Cahun

1923 — Hungary | 2008 — France
Marta Pan - AWARE

Marta Pan

1883 — 1956 | France
Marie Laurencin - AWARE

Marie Laurencin

1887 — 1968 | France
Valentine Hugo - AWARE

Valentine Hugo

1901 — Germany | 1987 — United Kingdom
Else Meidner - AWARE

Else Meidner

1905 — Hungary | 1970 — France
Rogi André - AWARE

Rogi André

1898 — Russia | 1951 — Poland
Katarzyna Kobro - AWARE

Katarzyna Kobro

1931 — 1999 | Poland
Maria  Pinińska-Bereś - AWARE

Maria Pinińska-Bereś

1840 — 1926 | France
Victoria Dubourg - AWARE

Victoria Dubourg

1822 — 1899 | France
Marie Rosalie Bonheur (dite Rosa Bonheur) - AWARE

Marie Rosalie Bonheur (dite Rosa Bonheur)

1840 — 1916 | France
Marie Bracquemond - AWARE

Marie Bracquemond

1911 — Denmark | 1984 — France
Sonja Ferlov Mancoba - AWARE

Sonja Ferlov Mancoba

1963 — France | 1946 — ?
Marcelle Renée Lancelot-Croce - AWARE

Marcelle Renée Lancelot-Croce

1941 — 2010 | Germany
Sibylle Bergemann - AWARE

Sibylle Bergemann

1844 — 1933 | United-Kingdom
Annie Louisa Swynnerton - AWARE

Annie Louisa Swynnerton

1855 — Austria | 1927 — United-Kingdom
Marianne Stokes (née Maria Léopoldine Preindlsberger) - AWARE

Marianne Stokes (née Maria Léopoldine Preindlsberger)

1844 — 1924 | France
Marie Cazin - AWARE

Marie Cazin

1924 — 1990 | Spain
Juana Francés - AWARE

Juana Francés

1942 — Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic) | 2003 — Czech Republic
Zorka Ságlová - AWARE

Zorka Ságlová

1909 — 1970 | United States
Marie Menken - AWARE

Marie Menken

1902 — 1988 | Argentina
Raquel Forner - AWARE

Raquel Forner

1887 — 1986 | United States
Georgia O’Keeffe - AWARE

Georgia O’Keeffe

1966 | People’s Republic of China
YU Hong - AWARE

YU Hong

1913 — 1994 | United States
Helen Phillips - AWARE

Helen Phillips

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