How deep is your love?

Music may be the food of the love, but art has also acted as a powerful aphrodisiac. We celebrate the 10 most famous art couples of the 20th century


Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) and Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

When Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe (pictured above) were first introduced in 1915, he was in his fifties and already famous as a pioneering photographer, while she was a twenty-something Texan art teacher. Stieglitz was also an art dealer and the first to exhibit her abstract drawings.

Married in 1924, they lived in New York, with O’Keeffe by then being acknowledged as one of the US’s most important painters. Trips to New Mexico inspired a change in direction for O’Keefe’s work, some of which the couple discussed in a mass of correspondence that amounted to some 5,000 letters up until Stieglitz’s death in 1946.


Man Ray (1890-1976) and Lee Miller (1907-1977)

Already successful as a model, Lee Miller moved to Paris in 1929 to work as an apprentice for the visionary photographer. She had called on him unannounced in a café, whereupon Man Ray had explained to her he was about to go to Biarritz for a holiday. ‘So am I,’ she shot back.

Miller went on to become Man Ray’s lover, assistant and muse. She took several of the photographs credited to him and rediscovered solarisation, a technique that would become Ray’s trademark. They parted in 1932, but remained friends.


Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)


Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, 1930. The New York Times/eyevine

One of the most volatile couples in art history, Kahlo and Rivera met when she was his student. They married in 1929, divorced in 1939 due to infidelity and violence, then remarried a year later.

They influenced each other’s colourful styles, yet despite being championed as Mexico’s greatest living artist for his socially aware murals, Rivera believed his wife’s more personal aesthetic was superior. He also wrote that Kahlo’s death in 1954 was the most tragic moment of his life.


Ben Nicholson (1894-1982) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975)

The British sculptor Barbara Hepworth and the artist Ben Nicholson met while on holiday in Norfolk in 1931, and although both were already married, they gradually fell in love. Over a series of joint exhibitions in the next few years, they encouraged each other to move towards abstraction.

In 1934 Hepworth gave birth to triplets and the couple married four years later. During the Second World War they became key members of the artistic community of St Ives in Cornwall. They divorced in 1951.


Willem (1904-1997) and Elaine de Kooning (1919-1989)

When Elaine Fried and Willem de Kooning met in 1938 as Abstract Expressionist painters in the group of artists that went on to form the New York School, it was love at first sight. He gave her drawing lessons, helping her to become a fine portraitist.

They married in 1943, with Elaine helping to promote her husband’s career. They separated in the 1950s, with affairs and heavy drinking forcing them apart, but were reconciled in 1976 when she began to manage his studio.

Charles (1907-1978) and Ray Eames (1912-1989)


Photo mural of Charles and Ray Eames posing with chair bases on exhibit at LACMA. Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

After meeting in 1941 when Ray helped Charles design his entry for the Museum of Modern Art’s organic furniture competition, the couple married the same year and moved to Los Angeles, where they established a collaborative practice.

They created the famous LCW, proclaimed by Time magazine as ‘the chair of the century’, built a home that became a mecca for designers and architects, and became arguably the most influential couple in the history of 20th-century design.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and Lee Krasner (1908-1984)


Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner in East Hampton, 1953. akg-images / Tony Vaccaro

When they met in 1942 after exhibiting at the same gallery, Krasner enjoyed a higher profile than Pollock. The two Abstract Expressionists married three years later, setting up home in Long Island. Pollock benefited from Krasner’s formal training before he went on to find fame, while Pollock’s influence infused Krasner’s style with greater freedom.

Their relationship became strained due to his drinking and an affair, and she embarked on a visit to Europe in 1956. While she was away, Pollock was killed in a car crash.


Max Ernst (1891-1976) and Dorothea Tanning (1910-2012)

These two pioneers of Surrealism first met in 1942 at a New York gallery, later falling in love over a prolonged game of chess. Four years later after Ernst, a German émigré, had divorced Peggy Guggenheim, he married Tanning in a double wedding with Man Ray and Juliet Browner.

When Ernst was refused American citizenship in 1957, the couple migrated to France. They lived there until Ernst’s death in 1976, her art overshadowed by his fame.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Françoise Gilot (b. 1921)

Picasso’s relationships with a succession of muses are key to understanding his development as an artist, with Gilot’s story one of the most romantic amid some fractious encounters.

When Picasso spied the aspiring model and sent a bowl of cherries to her table, she was a 21-year-old art student and he was 40 years her senior. Although never married, the couple lived together for 10 years and Gilot bore him two children — Claude and Paloma. She left him in 1953, after developing her own style — a softer take on Cubism.


Jasper Johns (b. 1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008)

When they became lovers as well as collaborators in the mid- to late 1950s, Johns and Rauschenberg understandably wanted to keep their relationship private. During a six-year period they created works together that saw them lead the move away from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art.

When they split in 1961, the grief-stricken pair left New York and headed south. Their pictorial styles would change radically, and the two would neither see nor speak to one another for a decade or more.

Main image at top: Alfred Stieglitz with Georgia O’Keeffe at Lake George in New York. Alamy


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