They say that there’s no fate worse than dating an artist. But what happens when one creative falls in love with another? February is here and with it comes the Hallmark holiday that everyone loves to hate. Celebrate the month of Valentine’s Day with our roundup of 10 of the most famous artist couples throughout history. While some went on to live happily ever after, others weren’t so lucky. However, they all have one thing in common: each relationship led the following artists to create some of their best works.
With a love story as colourful as their shared aesthetic, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s relationship began as a teacher-student romance. Drawn together by a common interest in communist politics, a love of painting and an utmost respect for one another’s work, the pair married in 1929. Ten years later, they divorced after it was revealed that Rivera had an affair with Kahlo’s sister, Cristina. True love never fails, though, and the dynamic duo rekindled their marriage one year later. Despite being lauded as Mexico’s greatest living artist, Rivera always viewed his wife as more talented than himself. Their relationship lasted until Kahlo’s death in 1954, an event which her partner described as the most tragic moment of his life.
Just like a scene from your favourite rom-com, Gilbert and George first locked eyes in the halls of Central Saint Martins in 1967, where the two studied sculpture. Dubbing the encounter as love at first sight, the duo collaborated on both 3D as well as 2D works – although they would continue to refer to all artworks as sculpture. Exploring themes of religion, sexuality and identity across a wide range of media, Gilbert and George have stayed relevant beyond the confines of the elitist art. They married in 2008, having spent over 4 decades together in the art world that they collectively rebel against.
Alfred Stieglitz met Georgia O’Keeffe at a time when he was already at the top of his game. Twenty years her senior, the photographer and gallerist was more than just a partner for the younger artist – he also served as her mentor. He was the first to exhibit her abstract drawings and helped nurture her into the respected painter she would grow to become. O’Keeffe’s talents eventually led her to New Mexico, and the couple’s relationship consisted of little more than love letters sent back and forth until his death. The ultimate testament to the power of long distance relationships, each of the 20,000 letters has since been collected for the book “My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz”. Maybe it’s just us, but Noah’s 365 letters to Allie in The Notebook suddenly seem a lot less romantic.
Man Ray and Lee Miller
Although Man Ray insisted that he didn’t take student apprentices, the successful model Lee Miller relocated to Paris for a chance at working with the iconic artist. She became his photographic assistant, his muse and, later, his lover. The romance was short and sweet, but the two-year relationship was a productive one. Before finding herself as a photographer and becoming an active member of the Surrealist movement, Miller discovered the solarisation technique Man Ray would later trademark. She is also credited for many of the artist’s photographs taken between 1929 and 1932, as she stepped in while he worked on his paintings.
Marina Abramovic and Ulay
Passionate, pioneering and powerful, these are the three most apt words to sum up the work of Ulay and Marina Abramovic. Proof that they were destined for romance, the couple even share the same birthday. Referring to one another as “the other” and “parts of a two-headed body”, their synchronised creativity resulted in over a decade of collaborations that explored themes of ego and artistic identity. Not all love lasts forever, though, and the two parted ways with one last collaboration. Entitled “The Great Wall Walk”, this final partnership saw Abramovic and Ulay separated by China’s Great Wall, where they went to meet in the middle for one last goodbye.
Pablo Picasso and Françoise Gilot
Pablo Picasso’s fascination with the female form spawned from a long line of women he called his muses. Possibly his most reputable muse was his long- term partner, Françoise Gilot, whom he wooed with a bowl of cherries when he spotted her across the restaurant in which they were dining. At the tender age of 21, Gilot was already producing well-respected paintings of her own, although she was still a student at the time. While technically married to another, Picasso carried on a turbulent ten-year affair with Gilot – fathering her two children. The relationship was a nasty one, but the couple inspired each other artistically: Gilot acted as Picasso’s muse for the decade, and Picasso’s work influenced Gilot’s take on cubism.
Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst
Following a relationship with art patron Peggy Guggenheim, Max Ernst went on to marry his fourth wife, Dorothea Tanning. The couple – who famously fell in love over a game of chess – is credited as pioneering the Surrealist movement. Despite this successful accomplishment, Manning insisted that the two “Never, never talked art. Never.” Married in a double ceremony in Hollywood with Man Ray and Juliet Browner, the pair enjoyed surrounding themselves with other artists. Often, they would entertain the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson in their home in France, seemingly thriving among fellow creatives. Dipping between Surrealism, Dadaism and everything in between, the pair continued their separate artistic practices and maintained a healthy marriage until Ernst’s death in 1976.
This design duo is another that formed from a teacher-student relationship. Following up this cliché with yet another, their affair began while Charles was still married, leading him to leave his wife for Ray. It’s a good thing they did meet, though, as without these two the world wouldn’t have the famous LCW chair – a piece of furniture that Time Magazine proclaimed as the chair of the century. We also have the Eames to thank for the DSW chair and the Eames Lounge. The couple is recognised as the most influential architectural and furniture designers of the 20th century, working as the ultimate team until Charles’ death.
Recognised for developing the first American style to depart from Abstract Expressionism, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg came together as collaborators and lovers in the mid ’50s. Though the two are widely considered as the founding fathers of the pop art movement, their relationship was ignored due to the rampant homophobia during this time. With many believing the two to be just friends, their intense partnership is often overlooked as being a pivotal factor in their art-making. After a passionate six years, Johns and Rauschenberg broke up. The distraught revolutionaries both left New York City, changed their pictorial styles and cut off all contact with each other for over ten years.
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes’ romance got off to a quick start. The pair of poets/writers met and married within four months, but the marriage turned sour in the face of infidelity and the union only lasted a mere few years. As the saying goes, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned – and Plath pit her sorrow and anger into her writing, creating some of her most esteemed work – notably, The Bell Jar. However, her writing couldn’t heal her wounds and Plath’s ongoing depression led her to take her own life soon after. Critically acclaimed as one of the best poets of his generation, and one of the most respected writers of the 20th century, Ted Hughes devoted his later years to editing his late wife’s work and writing Birthday Letters, a collection of poems thought to reflect on Sylvia Plath’s death.