As our readers, you all know it’s no secret how much we at The Female Gaze love the arts.
It’s also no secret just how deeply entwined love and art are; love, lust, lovers, and love stories have been popular subjects for centuries in cultures around the world. Tender, poignant, tragic, sensual, and humorous representations of love abound. And artists have long drawn artistic inspiration from the people in their lives, and artist couples influenced and inspired one another.
So in honor of Valentine’s Day – and because who doesn’t love a good a love story? – we’re celebrating artistic power couples. In no particular order, here are a few love stories from recent art history:
Diego Rivera was a giant in the Mexican art world when Frida Kahlo approached him and showed him some of her paintings in the late 1920s. He was impressed by her talent, and encouraged her as an artist. Their relationship – married in 1929, divorced in 1939, and remarried in 1940 – was a volatile but enduring one, and both were incredibly productive artists. Both were members of the Communist Party, and the Mexican Revolution and Mexican identity were persistent themes in their work. They were part of a vibrant circle of artists and intellectuals, and they filled their home, the Casa Azul, with their collection of art and artifacts.
Georgia O’Keeffe is best known today for her monumental paintings of flowers and of New Mexican landscapes, and Stieglitz was an incredibly prolific pioneer of photography and a major player in the New York avant-garde art scene in the early 20th century. In 1916, Stieglitz was shown a group of O’Keeffe’s drawings by a friend, and decided to exhibit them in his gallery 291, without her permission. O’Keeffe, when she found out, visited the gallery to reprimand him. Soon after, the two began exchanging letters, and, although Stieglitz was married, and O’Keefe soon moved to New York where he provided her with a studio. O’Keeffe became his muse, and he created hundreds of portraits of her, many in the nude. They married in 1924, after Stieglitz’s divorce was finalized. Though O’Keeffe began spending more time alone in New Mexico, she and Stieglitz remained married and she was by his side when he died in 1946.
Marc Chagall met Bella Rosenfeld in 1910 while he was home (Vitebsk, Belarus) from art school. It was reportedly love at first sight for both of them, and Rosenfeld remained his love and muse for the next 35 years. While Chagall was a prolific painter and printmaker, creating vividly colored paintings of fantastic and personal themes, Rosenfeld was a writer and translator. They lived in France in the 1920s, before immigrating to the United States in 1941 to escape Nazi persecutions of Jews. Rosenfeld died only a few later in 1944. She appears in many of his paintings, even after her death, and Chagall struggled deeply with her loss. He kept a notebook of hers and added his own illustrations for 20 years after her death. His paintings of himself and Rosenfeld remain some of his most personal and tender works.
Robert Mapplethorpe is considered one of the great photographers of the 20th century, and he is particularly known for his black and white portraits, erotic subjects, and compositions of male and female nudes. His work was frequently controversial and incited debates about censorship and public funding for the arts. Sam Wagstaff, the son of a wealthy New York family, was a curator at the Wadsworth Atheneum and later the Detroit Institute of Arts. He was also a collector, first of paintings, and then photography. His was one of the first great private collections of photography assembled, and is now owned by the Getty. Wagstaff and Mapplethorpe met in 1972, and were lovers and companions for fifteen years: Wagstaff helped Mapplethorpe’s career, and Mapplethorpe aided Wagstaff in building his incredible collection of photography.
Husband and wife dynamic design duo. Married in 1941, they settled in Los Angeles and began a collaborative career in design and modern architecture. Charles had trained as an architect, while Ray had studied abstract expressionist painting and was a founding member of the American Abstract Artists group. They are known for their innovative use of molded plywood and other new materials in furniture, such as the Eames Lounge Chair. They also produced films, designed exhibitions, and produced medical splints for the U.S. Navy during World War II. Ray designed textiles and graphics for posters, magazine covers, and more. They also designed and built their home and studio as part of the modern architecture case study program sponsored by Arts & Architecture Magazine; today the house is a National Historic Landmark.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
*Cover Image: Marc Chagall, Lovers and the Eiffel Tower (1928). Source: ArtRev.