The 13 Most Fascinating Artist Romances, Marriages and Breakups

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The myth of the solitary artist genius is just that – a myth. Many of the greatest painters, photographers and sculptors were inspired by their passion for another – a muse, a collaborator, a rival or maybe someone who was all three. With Valentine's Day approaching, we've compiled a highly subjective list of intriguing creative couples whose relationships are thoroughly enmeshed with the arc of modern art history. We also browsed our upcoming sales and have selected works by many of these husbands, wives and paramours. Click ahead for romance, tragedy, polyamory and more.       

The 13 Most Fascinating Artist Romances, Marriages and Breakups

  • Tina Modotti and Edward Weston pose for a mock wedding portrait in a Mexico City photo studio in 1924. Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
    Tina Modotti and Edward Weston
    Tangled beginnings: In Los Angeles in 1921, Modernist photographer Weston was part of an avant-garde circle that gathered at the home of his friend Roubaix "Robo" de l'Abrie Richey, a self-styled bohemian ­ and Modotti’s husband. Weston followed his muse, model and student to Mexico.

    Mexican Renaissance: During their relationship (1923–­26) Modotti and Weston lived in Mexico City, where they befriended Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, whose murals Modotti would photograph.

    Intrigue: Until her mysterious death in the backseat of a taxi, Modotti’s radical politics kept her on the move between Mexico City, Berlin, and Moscow, where she was a Soviet agent. 
  • Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, circa 1932. Photo by Fotosearch / Getty Images
    Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera
    May–December: The icons of Mexican modernism became involved while Kahlo was a teenaged art student and a few years after the streetcar accident that left her physically devastated. They wed in 1929, when Rivera was 42 and Kahlo was 22.  

    Other Lovers: Frida and Diego made an art of infidelity. True to her Communist ideals, she was involved with Leon Trotsky, while Rivera had an affair Kahlo’s younger sister, Christine.

    Can’t Quit You: The couple divorced in 1939 only to remarry the following year.

    She said: “There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the streetcar, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
  • Gala and Salvador Dalí about to disembark from the Vulcania upon arrival in New York, 29 December 1948. Photo by New York Times Co./Getty Images
    Gala Dalí and Salvador Dalí
    Years Married: Hitched for a surreal 48 years, from 1934–82.

    Between friends: Dalí met his future wife while she was married to the artist Paul Éluard, with whom Gala remained ­very close ­after their divorce.

    Muse and Manager: Gala modelled for many of Dali"s paintings, including Gravida , 1931, offered in the upcoming Surrealist Art Evening Sale (London, 28 February). When not posing, she managed sales, exhibitions and finances.

    Holy Moly: The couple had an open marriage and just before Gala's death at age 87, she was romantically involved with 22-year-old Jesus Christ Superstar actor Jeff Fenholt.
  • Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning playing chess with Muriel and Julien Levy at the Julien Levy Gallery, New York, 1945. Gelatin silver print, American photographer / Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, USA / 125th Anniversary Acquisition. The Lynne and Harold Honickman Gift of the Julien Levy Collection, 2001 / Bridgeman Images
    Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning
    Years married: 1946­–1976. He had three ex-wives (see below); she never remarried after Ernst's death.

    Paramours: Ernst connected with Tanning when he visited her studio at the behest of his third wife, collector and gallerist Peggy Guggenheim, who later regretted it.

    Double take: The Surrealist painters were married in Hollywood in a joint ceremony with their friends the artist Man Ray and dancer Juliet Browner.

    King and Queen: The couple shared a passion for chess and played a game during that fateful first studio visit. A week later Ernst moved into Tanning’s apartment.

  • Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) and Francoise Gilot (b.1922), c.1952 (b/w photo) / Private Collection / Roger-Viollet, Paris / Bridgeman Images
    Françoise Gilot and Pablo Picasso
    Locking Eyes: Dining at Paris restaurant Le Catalan in May 1943, Picasso, then 61, spotted Gilot, 21, with friends. He approached their table for an introduction, bearing a bowl of cherries.

    History repeats: Well aware of the many women in his past, Gilot took Picasso’s affections from Dora Maar, who the artist met with while still involved with Marie-Thérèse Walter, who had assuaged Picasso during the collapse of his marriage to the unstable Olga Khokhlova, and so on.  

    Progeny: Claude, born 1947; Paloma, born 1949.

    She said: Although she walked out on Picasso in 1953 “a sense of loss remained” for Gilot at the end of their “great passion.”

    He said: Unaccustomed to being dumped, Picasso told her angrily she was “headed straight for the desert” without him.

    Genius of Love: Gilot’s second husband was Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine.

  • Elaine and Willem de Kooning in 1953. Photo by Tony Vaccaro / Private Collection / Bridgeman Images
    Elaine de Kooning and Willem de Kooning
    Drawn Together: Elaine Fried took de Kooning’s drawing class in 1938. He was mad for her; they married in 1943 but their union could not withstand their mutual ambition, financial pressures, and infidelities.

    Spendthrift: Although the couple frequently subsisted on coffee and cigarettes and barely made rent on their West 22nd Street loft, stylish Elaine somehow found the money for a closet full of clothes.

    Proto-Feminist: Elaine refused to cook and clean at the expense of her art, insisting that her career was as worthy as any man’s. Later, she reconciled with de Kooning and abandoned a high-paying teaching post to move to Long Island to manage his studio.
  • Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns at a Larry Rivers opening at Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York, 1 December 1958. Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
    Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg
    Upstairs Downstairs: Involved from 1954­–61, the famously reticent Johns and chatty, gregarious Rauschenberg had studios on different floors of an industrial building on Pearl Street in Manhattan.

    Relationship goals: The dual force of Rauschenberg “Combines” and Johns’s “Targets” and “Flags” heralded the end of Abstract Expressionism’s art-world reign.

    Rivals: In 1958 Leo Castelli was meant to visit Rauschenberg to discuss an exhibition. The famed art dealer wound up in Johns’s studio and immediately signed him;  Rauschenberg’s show was postponed indefinitely.

    Bitter End: Artistic jealousy and competitiveness doomed their relationship. They didn’t speak for years after their breakup.

  • Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler. Photo by Hans Namuth/Condé Nast via Getty Images
    Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell
    Years Married: 1958­–1971. It was his third of four marriages and her first of two.

    Bon Vivants: Nicknamed the The Golden Couple, the two painters represented a young, well-heeled uptown counterpart to the scrappier Abstract-Expressionist artists who lived, worked and drank downtown.

    Her Ex: Frankenthaler was previously involved with Clement Greenberg, the era’s career-making/career-breaking art critic who praised Motherwell’s work.
  • Francis Bacon and George Dyer, Soho, 1950s, gelatin silver print by John Deakin. Private Collection / Photo ©Christie’s Images/Bridgeman Images
    Francis Bacon and George Dyer
    Emotional climate: Unpredictable; frequent alcohol-fuelled storms accompanied by hurricane-force arguments mixed with brief periods of sun.

    Looking for Trouble: Bacon had a weakness for handsome lowlifes when he met Dyer, an ex-con, in a London pub in 1963. Many of Bacon's most celebrated paintings depict Dyer, who was not always happy with the anguished, distorted portraits.

    Dark Inspiration: In October 1971, two days before Bacon’s major retrospective opened at the Grand Palais, Dyer committed suicide by overdosing on barbiturates in their hotel bathroom. Bacon was devastated but the next four years were among the most prolific of his career.
  • Claude and Francois-Xavier Lalanne with their Sheep sculptures, November 1987. Photo by Jean-Claude Deutsch/Paris Match via Getty Images
    Claude Lalanne and François-Xavier Lalanne
    Flock of 2: They married in 1967 but met in 1952 at François-Xavier’s first and only gallery show of paintings. He abandoned painting to concentrate on sculpture with Claude.

    Grand Menagerie: Claude’s organic sculptures and jewellery are brilliant reinterpretations of plant life, while François-Xavier took inspiration primarily from the animal kingdom.

    A-List Admirers: On the long list of the artists’ fans are Baron Guy de Rothschild, Yves Saint Laurent, Jacques Granges and French pop legend Serge Gainsbourg, who chose to feature les Lalannes sculptures on the cover of his 1976 concept album L'Homme à tête de chou.
  • Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe at the 82 Club, New York, 10 May 1974. Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images
    Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith
    Novel Romance: The artists met in 1967 at Brentano's Bookstore in New York, where Smith was working.

    Urban Idyll: The duo briefly resided in the famed Hotel Chelsea, occupying the smallest room.

    Cover to cover: Mapplethorpe photographed Smith for the cover of her first album, Horses (1975) as well as several future records.

    Metamorphosis: Their romance, chronicled in Smith's poignant 2010 memoir Just Kids, dissolved with Mapplethorpe's recognition of his homosexuality, but the two remained close. In a letter to Mapplethorpe, Smith referred to him as "The most beautiful work of all."
  • Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Photo: dpa picture alliance / Alamy Stock Photo
    Christo and Jeanne-Claude
    How they met: Christo was a refugee from Bulgaria living in Paris when Jeanne-Claude’s mother hired him to paint her portrait.

    True Twins: These Geminis were born on the same day, June 13, 1935.

    Extreme Measures: When travelling to far-flung locations to install their often controversial environmental artworks – such as wrapping a mile and a half of coastline on Australia’s Little Bay with a million feet of fabric – the couple flew in separate planes in case one of them crashed.

    Signature Look: Jeanne-Claude said the choice of her almost audibly loud red-orange hair color was her husband’s.

  • Gilbert & George with one of their works in St Matthaus Church, Berlin, 17 May 2017. Photo: Britta Pedersen/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa/Alamy Live News
    Gilbert Prousch and George Passmore
    The Universal Language: In 1967 at London’s St Martin’s College, Italian-born Gilbert met Englishman George, who, according to lore, was the only one who could understand his thick Italian accent.

    Art is life: The collaborative duo known as Gilbert & George consider themselves “living sculptures” and exhibited themselves as such. 

    Famous Fan: David Bowie collected their work.

    Punk Dandies: Known for always dressing in natty suits, the artists’ outward propriety is in provocative contrast to the vulgar hilarity of their works, such as their unambiguously titled self-portrait series “Naked Shit Pictures.”

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