The Art Of Ri­valry by Se­bas­tian Smee (Pro­file Books, £9.99)

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - BOOKS REVIEW -

Gore Vi­dal once said some­thing to the ef­fect that we mea­sure our suc­cess against the fail­ings of our friends. In this his­tory of four creative re­la­tion­ships be­tween mod­ern painters, Smee shows that com­pe­ti­tion might be bad for the mind but can be good for the art. He ex­am­ines the pair­ings of Manet and De­gas, Pi­casso and Matisse, Lu­cien Freud and Fran­cis Ba­con, and Jack­son Pol­lock and Willem de Koon­ing. Smee has writ­ten five books on Freud, and his chap­ter on Ba­con and Freud is the most re­veal­ing. The flesh-ob­sessed Ba­con al­lowed his friend to stop car­ing about con­ven­tion and trust in­stinct. Sim­i­larly, Pol­lock – surely the most over­rated painter of the 20th cen­tury? – taught de Koon­ing that a touch of naivety, in life and art, can do won­ders when search­ing for a new style. Smee’s writ­ing is en­gag­ing and jour­nal­is­tic. But this is an nice ri­poste to the idea of the artist as lone hero.

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