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