Often destructive, sometimes difficult but mainly inspirational, these creative couples all contributed to what made each individual artist – helping to create some of the most renowned painters, writers and musicians throughout history. See out part one here.
Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith
Recounting her life with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in her memoir “Just Kids”, Patti Smith describes her former lover as “the artist of my life”. Her award winning autobiography details an intense relationship in which two people struggle to become artists, battling poverty along the way. The couple met in New York and lived together in the Hotel Chelsea – home to numerous writers, musicians, actors and artists. With Smith supporting her then-lover through working in bookstores, Mapplethorpe soon flourished as a photographer and encouraged her to pursue the creative lifestyle through collaborative sculptures and collage. Ever the keen writer, Smith eventually turned her archive of poems into spoken word pieces and progressed on to songwriting. For her debut album, “Horses”, Smith used one of the many portraits Mapplethorpe took of her as its cover. Although their intimate relationship ceased following Mapplethorpe’s coming out, the two remained best friends until his death. To this day, Smith professes Mapplethorpe as the most important person in her life.
Elaine and Willem De Kooning
Willem De Kooning was already well-versed in his craft while Elaine was still studying at the American Arts School in New York. Fourteen years his junior, Willem was Elaine’s drawing instructor, and is rumoured to have been quite the critic of her work. The pair married in 1943, and despite a tumultuous open relationship affected by lack of money, heavy alcoholism and many affairs on both parts, the pair stayed married until Elaine’s death over 50 years later. Part of the informal group of poets, painters, dancers and musicians active in the 1950s and 1960s, which became known as The New York School, the De Koonings are known today as the pioneers of the abstract expressionist movement.
Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter
Another of the many artist couples fulfilling the teacher-student relationship cliché is Kandinsky and Münter, who met at the Phalanx school in Munich. Although Kandinsky was still legally married, the pair became romantically involved and together formed the expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter and also the Neue Kunstlervereinigung. Kandinsky and Münter supported each other artistically throughout their relationship, although never marrying, and Kandinsky went on to become the first ever painter producing purely abstract works of art, while Münter became one of the most important members of the emerging avant-garde movement in Munich. Although Kandinsky was technically the theorist and the teacher, Münter has been accredited with educating him on a number of occasions too. For example, upon becoming exhausted with Composition IV, Kandinsky left this studio for a walk, only to return to find that his lover had accidentally turned the canvas upside down when tidying up – something which gave him a fresh perspective on a tired piece.
Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner
Throughout her artistic career, Lee Krasner seemed to live in the shadow of her husband, Jackson Pollock. Although both artists became staples in the world of abstract expressionism, Pollock always enjoyed more mainstream success, causing Krasner to battle with issues of artistic identity due to the public’s opinion that she was just “Pollock’s wife”. Formally trained, however, Krasner used her extensive knowledge of techniques and movements to teach her husband about contemporary art, and furthered his career through introducing him to many collectors, critics, and artists. Pollock influenced his wife too, encouraging her to become more fluid and intuitive, which helped her to become less critical of her own work and allowed her to go from the artist that wouldn’t even sign her paintings for fear of emphasising herself as a woman and a wife, to a post-modernist feminist artist in her own right.
Basquiat demanded Madonna return every painting he ever made for her, and painted over them black.
Madonna and Jean-Michel Basquiat
Before Madonna became the queen of pop, she briefly dated Jean-Michel Basquiat, the street-art prodigy who was, at the time, moving his work from graffiti to galleries and becoming very widely recognised. Although their relationship lasted only a year, Madonna cites Basquiat as a huge influence on her in terms of work ethic, stating that she was “blown away” by his painting sessions at four o’clock in the morning, and the way he “worked when he felt moved”. Basquiat was as smitten with her, introducing her as the next big thing to Larry Gagosian. The couple split on account of his increasing heroin habit, and the break-up was said to have been pretty ugly. Basquiat demanded Madonna return every painting he ever made for her, and painted over them black.
Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin
Claudel and Rodin were two of the first artists on the Belle Époque scene in Paris, and shared a common interest in sculpture. Twenty five years her senior, Rodin was immediately impressed with Claudel’s passion and talent, and she quickly progressed from being his studio assistant to that of a muse and artistic equal. She also became his lover in a self-destructive affair that lasted a decade. Refusing to give up his long-term relationship with Rose Beuret, Rodin’s continual pursuit of both women led to Claudel’s nervous breakdown. She destroyed many of her sculptures, became paranoid that her former lover had been stealing her ideas and displayed signs of schizophrenia. She was institutionalised soon after, and was confined for 30 years until her death. Although much of Claudel’s work was lost in her frenzy, there is a small collection on display in the Musée Rodin, Paris.
Jeanne-Claude and Christo
Jeanne-Claude and Christo met when her mother commissioned him to paint a portrait of her. At this time, Jeanne-Claude was engaged to another man and Christo was actually more interested in her sister than her, but somehow, Jeanne-Claude ended up pregnant shortly before her wedding. Her marriage lasted until the honeymoon, and estranged from her parents for having a child out of wedlock, she returned to Christo and began a life-long artistic and romantic relationship. The couple were interested in creating environmental works of art, collaborating in blocking off a part of the River Seine with oil barrels as a statement to the Berlin Wall and wrapping walkways, the Reichstag in Berlin and the Pont-Neuf in Paris in woven polyester fabric. According to Jeanne-Claude: “Our art has absolutely no purpose, except to be a work of art. We do not give messages.”
Hilla and Bernd Becher
Founders of the Düsseldorf School and mentors to the likes of Andreas Gursky and Thomas Ruff, this German collaborative duo focused extensively on photographic typologies of industrial architecture in a grid formation. Their signature style came to them early, when they met as students at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1957. They concentrated on Bernd’s hometown of Ruhr Valley and around his family trade of steel mining – fascinated by how similar in shape the water towers, coal-bunkers, blast furnaces, gas tanks and factory facades were. Meticulous in their process, the pair only shot on overcast days, so as not to incorporate any shadows, and always photographed with a straightforward objective viewpoint. The Bechers’ work has had considerable impact on minimalism and conceptual art since the 1970s.
Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey
Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey are two of the most notorious figures in English literature, and both were central to the formation of the Bloomsbury Group. Although Strachey was a homosexual man, his close relationship with Woolf, who was then known as Virginia Stephen, led him to propose to her. The engagement, however, was short-lived, with many speculating that the act only occurred to increase his social status or to cover up the fact that he was gay. The writer retracted his proposal within a day, and encouraged his friend and Bloomsbury comrade Leonard Woolf to marry Virginia instead. Despite the failed proposal, Strachey and Virginia Woolf remained friends, and Strachey even dedicated his first book, “Queen Victoria,” to her in 1921. Strachey is said to be the inspiration behind the character of St John Hirst in Woolf’s novel “The Voyage Out”, and her second husband Leonard believed that “there is something of Lytton in Neville” in her novel “The Waves”.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
The relationship between The Beatles’ frontman and multimedia-artist Yoko Ono was a controversial one, with many adoring fans under the impression that Ono was a clingy control-freak who played a role in the breakup of Britain’s most worshipped band. Beginning their relationship as an affair, both protagonists left their spouses and linked up to become one of the world’s most famous power couples, exhilarating each other on a creative level although a teem of adultery and domestic abuse littered their relationship. The pair stayed together until Lennon’s untimely murder in 1980, collaborating on numerous tracks for the esteemed “White Album” and eventually forming The Plastic Ono Band. Famous for their activism, John and Yoko combined advocacy with art by participating in multiple Bed-Ins for Peace and coining the term “bagism”, the act of wearing a bag over their entire bodies in public as a means of satirising stereotypes and prejudice.