Love, art and passion are the key focuses of this major exhibition featuring 17 famous artist couples like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin, Hans Arp and Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter, Natalia Gontscharowa and Michel Larionov, Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock, Marianne von Werefkin and Alexej von Jawlensky, and Niki de Saint-Phalle and Jean Tinguely. Each couple’s personal and artistic ties are revealed via works of art created in a period stretching from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century and now gathered together from all over the world.
‘… I can live without heaven – but I can never forget you …’ wrote Hans Arp, in despair following the death of his wife Sophie in 1943.
Work, creativity and love were closely intermeshed in these intense relationships. Some were tragic, as in the case of Claudel and Rodin, but others were tender lifelong unions, like that of Sonia and Robert Delaunay. Claudel’s infatuation with Rodin was such that she never recovered from the blow of his rejection of her in favour of another woman. But the ties between the partners can go so deep that they feel like a single unit. Frida Kahlo expressed her feelings on this subject in a double portrait of herself with Diego Rivera. American photographer Alfred Stieglitz left his wife and child to live with Georgia O’Keeffe, whose work he enormously admired. Although O’Keeffe was 23 years younger, their personal liaison and working relationship were very close and extremely enduring. However, artistic ties sometimes survive even when love has faded. For example, Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely continued to work on projects together even after their separation.
Whatever the course of the romantic alliance, the mutual dependence between the partners and the resulting influences between them were important factors in the artistic production of each of these artist couples. Visitors to this exhibition will be able to trace these developments in the works of art on show. By studying no fewer than 17 couples, it has been possible to conduct an in-depth examination of the phenomenon of the ‘artist couple’. The partners can work together on a piece, adopt (or reject) each other’s ideas, evolve in the same direction or explore completely different artistic avenues. Influence may be reciprocal. Until the mid-twentieth century, however, women artists could hardly exist on an equal footing with their partners. Krasner, Sonia Delaunay, Claudel, Kahlo and Werefkin lived in their partners’ shadows and were only later to receive the recognition they deserved. In revolutionary Russia, on the other hand, Natalia Gontscharowa could enjoy a position of equality with Michaïl Larionov.
The many works in the exhibition also give a good impression of the history of art in the first half of the twentieth century. They include top examples of German Expressionism (Kandinsky and Münter, Jawlensky and Werefkin), Dutch Expressionism (Else Berg and Mommie Schwarz), Russian Rayonism (Gontscharowa and Larionov), Orphism (Sonia and Robert Delaunay), Dadaism (Hans and Sophie Arp), American Abstract Expressionism (Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock), European Abstraction Lyrique (Hans Hartung and Anna-Eva Bergman), etc. As well as paintings, the exhibition features furniture (by Ray and Charles Eames), installations and sculpture – including Auguste Rodin’s renowned Kiss.
A Dutch-language book is to be published on the 17 artist couples and a detailed academic German-language catalogue (Künstler Paare, Liebe, Kunst & Leidenschaft) from the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne will also be available from the museum shop. The latter publication examines the phenomenon of the artist couple right from the seventeenth century.