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The Art of Rivalry

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art

Sebastian Smee

  • awardShortlisted, Walkley Book Award, 2016
  • awardWinner, Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award, 2017
  • awardShortlisted, Prime Minister’s Literary Awards, 2017
  • Genius, friend, rival: this is the story of four pairs of artists whose intense relationships spurred and shaped their art.

    Matisse and Picasso. Manet and Degas. Bacon and Freud. De Kooning and Pollock. Eight of the most significant modern artists; four pairs linked by friendship and a shared spirit of competitiveness. But in each case the relationship had a flashpoint, a damaging psychological event that seemed to mark both an end and a beginning, a break that led to audacious creative innovations.

    Absorbing, informed and provocative, Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry takes us to heart of each of these relationships. It offers revelatory insights into the ways in which these major artists influenced and changed each other—and into their ultimate quest ‘to be unique, original, inimitable; to acquire the solitude, the singularity, of greatness’.

    Sebastian Smee
    About the Author

    Sebastian Smee is the Boston Globe’s art critic. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 and a winner in 2011. His writing about art has appeared in many of the leading papers in Australia, the UK and the US. He grew up in Adelaide.

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    29 August 2016
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    Praise for Sebastian Smee
    andThe Art of Rivalry

    ‘Vivid and exuberant writing about art…[brings] great works to life with love and appreciation.’

    ‘Smee takes readers deep into the beginnings of modern art in a way that not only enlightens, but also builds a stronger appreciation of the influences that created the environment that fostered its development.’

    ‘This is magnificent book on the relationships at the roots of artistic genius. Smee offers a gripping tale of the fine line between friendship and competition, tracing how the ties that torment us most are often the ones that inspire us most.’

    ‘The keynotes of Sebastian Smee’s criticism have always included a fine feeling for the what of art—he knows how to evoke the way pictures really strike the eye—and an equal sense of the how of art: how art emerges from the background of social history. To these he now adds a remarkable capacity for getting down the who of art—the enigma of artists’ personalities, and the way that, two at a time, they can often intersect to reshape each in the other’s image. With these gifts all on the page together, The Art of Rivalry gives us a remarkable and engrossing book on pretty much the whole of art.’

    ‘Modern art’s major pairs of frenemies are a subject so fascinating, it’s strange to have a book on it only now—and a stroke of luck, for us, that the author is Sebastian Smee. He brings the perfect combination of artistic taste and human understanding, and a prose style as clear as spring water, to the drama and occasional comedy of men who inspired and annoyed one another to otherwise inexplicable heights of greatness.’

    ‘Beautifully written…This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read.’

    ‘Smee’s book is full of interest and elegance and compelling insights into formative moments in, not just art, but Western culture more broadly.’  

    ‘Smee’s writing is vivid and engaging, informed by his artistic judgment and a warmth of human understanding. The Art of Rivalry is a cracker of a book.’

    ‘Absorbing, informed and provocative, Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry takes us to heart of each of these relationships. It offers revelatory insights into the ways in which these major artists influenced and changed each other.’

    ‘Smee’s double portraits are deeply moving, even haunting in their investigations of artistic and emotional symbioses of incalculable intricacy and consequence.’

    ‘A riveting study.’

    ‘A hybrid of art history and biography, The Art of Rivalry sparkles with originality and psychological insight, and is full of fascinating information.’

    ‘The way Smee connects the dots is revelatory, plus lots of art world gossip.’

    ‘A riveting study…the title of which says it all.’

    ‘Sebastian Smee explores the ‘frenemy’ relationships between modern artists Freud and Bacon, Manet and Degas, Matisse and Picasso and Pollock and de Kooning—an amusing, intimate and human lens that textbooks are closed to.’

    ‘The Art of Rivalry is a triumph, combining superb writing with unique insights to produce vivid portraits of eight artists at the epicentre of the intensely competitive, edgy and controversial world of modern art. Smee dissects friendship and rivalry in this part-biography, part-art history, which reveals the destructive potential as much as the brilliance of creative genius. I came away feeling I knew the artists—yet wanting to know more.’

    ‘It made me laugh and it made me think.’

    Other editions ofThe Art of Rivalry
    • The Art of Rivalry
      ISBN: 9781922253163
      29 August 2016
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