The Romantic Gestures of 7 Famous Artist Couples
Art has long been inspired by great romances and lovers turned muses (or vice versa), so it’s no surprise that artist couples have gone to great lengths to communicate their love. On the occasion of the forthcoming bookThe Art of Love: The Romantic Pairings Behind the World’s Greatest Artworks, we share the ambitious romantic gestures of seven influential artist couples.
Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin turned their fierce passion into famed sculptures
extreme volatility that marked their relationship. “In a single instant I feel your terrible force,” Rodin wrote to Claudel the same year they met. “Atrocious madness, it’s the end. I won’t be able to work anymore…yet I love you furiously.”
During their affair (Rodin was already in a 20-year-long relationship with Rose Beuret), the two artists deeply influenced each other’s work. Claudel’s sculptures exuded humanity and sensuality, which Rodin gleaned during the years they worked side-by-side in his Paris studio. Scholars have conjectured that the rapturous, intertwined figures in two of Rodin’s most celebrated pieces—The Kiss (1882) and Eternal Idol (1890–93)—were inspired by his love for Claudel and her expert handling of clay.
Pablo Picasso presented Dora Maar with a miniature painting on a ring
Picasso painted Maar many times during their fiery romance, and often gifted the works to her after particularly angry rows. One such olive branch came in the form of ring. Where a gem would normally reside, Picasso nestled a small rendering of Maar, complete with wide, lopsided eyes and a blue striped chemise. Though the relationship went up in flames when Picasso left her for the younger
Frida Kahlo painted a sensual flower for Nickolas Muray
turbulent marriage to their passionate affair: “I love you like I would love an angel,” she wrote to him. “You are a [lLilly] of the valley my love.”
In their extensive correspondence, Kahlo affectionately signed letters with the nickname Xochitl, after a Nahuatl word for “flower” or “delicate thing.” In 1938, she gave Muray a painting of a flower, which has been interpreted by scholars as a creative representation of their relationship. The small canvas radiates with innuendo. Kahlo composed the flower as two unified parts: a bell-shaped vessel resembling a vagina and a phallic bundle of petals nestled within it.
Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst refused to call each other husband and wife
In 1946, they married in an idiosyncratic double ceremony alongside fellow artist pointed out. While they’d formalized their relationship, the couple resisted using the terms “wife” and “husband.” “If you get married you’re branded,” Tanning wrote in her 2003 memoir Between Lives: An Artist and Her World. “We could have gone on, Max and I, all our lives without the tag. I never heard him use the word ‘wife’ in regard to me. He was very sorry about that wife thing.”
Joseph Cornell inscribed love letters to Yayoi Kusama in his sculptures
The relationship between pioneering sculptor signature surrealistic collage boxes.
One poem reads: “Fly back to me / Spring flower / And I shall tie a string to you / Like this butterfly / I taste some of / The drink in your / Glass that you leave / I drink to Yayoi / Now— / I think of my princess.”
Cornell died in 1972, leaving Kusama boxes of magazine cuttings and other collage materials, which she used in the work that would jumpstart her artistic career in Japan in the later part of the decade.
Gilbert & George fell in love at first sight as young art students
Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore, better known simply as
In 1969, they created The Singing Sculpture, in which their own bodies became “living sculptures,” and they have placed self-portraiture (often featuring themselves in the buff) at the center of many provocative photomontages. Once, when confronted with the question “What will you do if one of you gets run over?” they answered with signature wit: “Fear not! We always cross the road together.’’
Marina Abramović and Ulay walked across the Great Wall of China to mark their breakup
12-year partnership produced one of the most influential
Later, they planned to cement their love in their most ambitious performance yet: each would walk from one side of the Great Wall of China, meeting at the center to wed. But by the time they made arrangements, Ulay’s infidelity had been revealed and their relationship disintegrated. In turn, the 1988 performance became symbolic of their parting, rather than their union. When they crossed paths at the Great Wall’s midpoint, the artists marked the end of their relationship.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a contributing writer for Artsy.