The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals & Breakthroughs in Modern Art
by Sebastian Smee (Profile, £9.99)
The Art of Rivalry selects four pairs of artists who were also pals and investigates the streams of influence that flowed between each pair. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Edgar Degas and Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning are led into the ring like prizefighters, each eyeballing the other in a posthumous contest of achievement. Art being an unpredictable and often indecipherable commodity, it isn’t clear what conclusions the book is leading us towards. What attracts one artist to another in this account is more than a matter of professional admiration. It is the magnetic force of personality, of daring to be one’s own man. Smee doesn’t have any new material, but he shuffles the pack of familiar stories with dexterity and enthusiasm. As a study of the dynamics of friendship between artists it offers some useful lessons, not the least of them in the tension that may inform every friendship: the longing to be close against the need to stand apart.