The Art of Rivalry

  • by Sebastian Smee
  • Narrated by Bob Souer
  • 10 hrs and 22 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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 who 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. 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.


What the Critics Say

"This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read about four important relationships in modern art." (Publishers Weekly Starred Review)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Living with Genius

I've sometimes thought that artistic genius forgives all kinds of bad behavior--bad-mouthing, family cruelty, general rudeness, even mild violence. This thoughtful and entertaining book demonstrates that idea. The eight modern artists profiled, geniuses all, do lots of bad things to each other and to third parties. Impossible behavior characterizes Francis Bacon, Jackson Pollock, Picasso and to a lesser degree the others.

The author focuses on four sets of contemporaries, friends and rivals each, placing them in their time and culture. Smee's theory on artistic rivalry, each pair benefiting from their ambivalent relationship with each other, makes sense (although I thought he was reaching when he described Pollock and de Kooning). The book is loaded with colorful anecdotes about the artists and their circles.

Readers who like modern art or painting generally will enjoy this book very much.
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- David

Artists are people too.

The book itself:

When we think of artists whose acclaim we now take for granted, some of which completely changed the course of modern art, it's hard to imagine the kind of challenges and periods of great doubt that they experienced before fully developing their work. The author sympathetically looks at a rather human side of these people who became greater than life. He chooses four couples of painters who influenced each other as friends, but also as rivals: Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud, Manet and Degas, Matisse and Picasso, Pollock and de Kooning. The book is very accessible and fascinating from start to finish.

The narration:

I can't say that I'm a fan of Bob Souer's work here. He's competent at reading in English, but makes a mess whenever he reads in other languages, especially French, and there's quite a bit of it. It's nearly comical how unintelligible his pronunciation turns out. He even manages to read incorrectly a simple name like Gonzalez, placing the accent in the last syllable, which is annoying when done repeatedly. Also, although his English is very clear, I find his monotone style very boring. It reminds me of old, black and white documentaries that feel quite dated. I suppose it's a matter of taste. Luckily, the book is interesting enough that I remained engaged despite these issues.

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- Alfredo

Book Details

  • Release Date: 09-27-2016
  • Publisher: Tantor Audio