Cue the Swoon: Art History’s Top 10 Romances


Everyone loves a good love story. Be it tragic, comedic, platonic, or lustful, we enjoy the rush of romance. We find it in literature, we find it in film, and we find it in celebrity life. Not to be outdone by Liz and Dick, Marilyn and Arthur, or even – dare we say – the Kardashians, the art world has also seen its share of romantic interludes. Some make us confident in the existence of great love, while others remind us that a rash decision, like calling an ex, is usually NOT the right move. That’s right. Put the phone down. Here is Lofty’s list of the top 10 art world romances.


Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin

rodin_claudel Image Left: Auguste Rodin, Source: Getty Image Right: Camille Claudel in 1884 (aged 19), Source: Wikimedia

Passionate and volatile, the ten year romance between French sculptor Auguste Rodin and his muse, fellow sculptor Camille Claudel, was rife with jealousy and drama. Despite promising otherwise, Rodin wouldn’t leave his wife for the much younger Camille, who suffered from paranoia and psychiatric breakdowns; and, although celebrated by some critics as an artistic genius during her lifetime, Camille’s work was largely overshadowed by Rodin’s fame and popularity. After splitting from Rodin in 1895, she descended further into mental illness, ultimately being committed to a mental asylum in 1913. Claudel remained there for the rest of her life, dying in 1943 at the age of 78.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

kahlo-rivera Image: Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico, 1937, Source: Huffington Post

Husband and wife, artistic collaborators, adulterers: the relationship of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo spanned more than twenty years and could have coined the phrase, “Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.” Surrealist painter Kahlo married Realism painter and muralist Rivera in 1929. Fully aware of his womanizing behavior, Kahlo chose to match Rivera’s passion for life with her own and the two became powerful symbols of Mexican patriotism through their roles as political activists and artists. Through all of the affairs and Kahlo’s illnesses, the couple remained each other’s greatest supporters in the pursuit of art.

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns

rauschenbergjohns Image: Rauschenberg and Jasper John’s in John’s Pearl Street studio, New York, ca. 1955, Photo: Rachel Rosenthal, Source:

Although painters and printmakers Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns never formally acknowledged their romantic relationship during the 1950s, later research into their collaboration and friendship revealed the truth of artists’ partnership. Each had an enormous impact on the other’s work. Both artists worked in a medium that was quite controversial at the time and they encouraged each other to experiment through an open dialogue of ideas and shared resources. The duo paved the way for the success of Pop Art, a movement further popularized by the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. The intense relationship ultimately ended in 1961 when both artists fled New York City for separate towns in southern states and ceased contact for over a decade.

Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner

pollock-krasner Image: Pollock and Krasner in Springs, 1945, Source: Huffington Post

Being a successful painter in your own right AND being married to Jackson Pollock must have been a recipe for disaster, and by all accounts, the marriage of Abstract Expressionist pioneers Pollock and Lee Krasner was just that. Pollock quickly became enamored with the plucky artist who spoke her mind and painted as well, if not better, than her male artist peers.  Krasner’s career took a quieter turn after their marriage in 1945, as Pollock was a depressive alcoholic who relied on her as a caretaker. His repeated infidelities eventually wore her down and they separated just before his tragic death in a car accident (with his mistress) in 1956. Krasner loyally promoted and encouraged Pollock’s work even after his death, maintaining his legacy as one of the greatest American artists, while often sacrificing her own pursuits.

Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne

modigliani_jeanne Image Left: Amedeo Modigliani, Source: Image Right: Jeanne Hébuterne, Source: Modern Art Consulting

Italian modernist painter Amedeo Modigliani met fellow artist Jeanne Hébuterne in 1917 through friends. She was 19, he was 33. Soon after meeting, Jeanne began to pose for Modigliani – an act she did for no one else, although it was common for muses to rotate between artists. Upon discovering the couple’s affair, Jeanne’s bourgeois parents were horrified that their daughter had fallen for a penniless, immigrant artist and tried to remove her from Paris. But Jeanne steadfastly remained with Modigliani, living in poverty with their illegitimate child, and caring for the artist as he battled alcoholism and tuberculosis until his death in 1920. The day after after his death, Jeanne committed suicide by jumping out of a window, killing herself and her unborn child. Although originally buried in a family plot, her remains were moved about ten years later to where Modigliani was buried so that the pair could remain together even in death.

Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith

NYR_3440_0029 Image: Norman Seeff, Patti Smith & Robert Mapplethorpe, New York, 1969, Source: Christie’s

In 1967, two lonely, poor kids met in New York City – neither with any notable social connections or high-class educations, but both with ambitions to become icons of art and culture in the 1970s and 1980s. The pairing of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and musician/writer Patti Smith was a legendary collision of artists with nothing to lose except each other. Although Mapplethorpe would go on to become an iconic symbol of homoeroticism and gay culture in the 1980s, his early relationship with Smith set the stage for his experimentations with collage and photography. Living at the Chelsea Hotel, the two were each other’s supporters and caretakers. The dynamic duo managed to eke out an artistic life in complete squalor, and remained, even after their breakup, very close friends and collaborators until Mapplethorpe’s death in 1989. Their relationship was further immortalized in Just Kids, Smith’s book about the couple’s time together.

Dorothy and Herb Vogel

dorothy-and-herb-collector-tribue Image: Herb and Dorothy Vogel in their one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, Source: The Collector Tribune

Great art world romances are not limited to those between artists or artist and muse. Art history finds a special place for great patrons responsible for developing the talents of some of history’s greatest artists. For minimalist and conceptual artists, their champions were Herb and Dorothy Vogel whose romance was less about dramatic overtures and volatile passion, and more about a meeting of minds. Herb was a postal worker. Dorothy worked at the public library. They married in 1962 and chose to live frugally (no children, no grand vacations, a tiny, rent-controlled apartment) in order to focus their free spending on art acquisitions. From 1962 until Herb’s death in 2012, the Vogels amassed a collection of around 5,000 pieces of artwork, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. They donated most of it in 1992 to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Since Herb’s death, Dorothy still makes the rounds at the galleries, but more so as a spectator.

Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein

toklas-stein Image: Gertrude Stein with Alice B. Toklas, Source: Paris Muse

Avant-garde writer Alice B. Toklas met fellow writer and art critic Gertrude Stein in 1907, on her first day in Paris. Toklas moved into Stein’s apartment soon afterwards. The duo would host one of the most famous salons for modern art in Paris’s history. Their home became a refuge for critique, discussion, patronage, and collaboration, launching the careers for artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The pair lived openly as lovers and partners, freed by the relaxed society of their bohemian social circle. Written in 1933, The Autobiography of Alice Toklas, is recognized as the work that made Gertrude Stein’s writing accessible to a wider audience.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude

christo-jeane-claude-thegates-smithsonian Image: Smithsonian Magazine, December 2008.

One of the best examples of a collaborative, supportive artist relationship was the one between conceptual artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Born on the same date – June 13, 1935 – but in different cities, the couple eventually met in Paris in 1958 when Christo was commissioned to paint a portrait of Jeanne-Claude’s mother. During the 1960s, they became well known for their collaborative environmental art installations, including The Gates in Central Park in 2005. The dynamic duo was always quick to credit each other for their joint success. Christo even retroactively added Jeanne-Claude’s name to much of his early work, as he felt her role in collaboration had been crucial to its development. Since Jeanne-Claude’s sudden death in 2009, Christo continues to work, but always in reference to the principles set forth by the pair’s partnership.

Marina Abramović and Ulay

Marina_Abramović,_The_Artist_is_Present,_2010_(2) Image: Wikimedia Commons

Considered one of the greatest performance artists of our time, Marina Abramović has lived her life in the public eye as a provocateur, using silence and isolation to comment about the true insecurities of human nature. Most recognize her as a famous solo artist, but some of her most chilling work was done in partnership with Ulay, a German artist she met in Amsterdam in 1976. Together, the couple explored the art of relationship, ego, and identity, using their romantic and artistic connection to explore uncomfortable views of personal space and patience. Not surprisingly, the pressure of the work strained the couple’s relationship and the duo split in 1988 – Ulay arguing that Marina was too controlled by fame, Marina arguing that Ulay had lost his ambition. To spiritually end their partnership, Abramović and Ulay each walked the Great Wall of China from opposite ends, meeting in the middle to say their final goodbye. Talk about closure!

Featured Image: Detail of Frida and Diego (with gas mask) kissing in Coyoácan, 1938, Source: Playground Detroit