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Short Synopsis
Pulitzer Prize–winning art critic Sebastian Smee tells the fascinating story of four pairs of artists—Manet and Degas, Picasso and Matisse, Pollock and de Kooning, Freud and Bacon—whose fraught, competitive friendships spurred them to new creative heights.

Full Synopsis
Rivalry is at the heart of some of the most famous and fruitful relationships in history. The Art of Rivalry follows eight celebrated artists, each linked to a counterpart by friendship, admiration, envy, and ambition. All eight are household names today. But to achieve what they did, each needed the influence of a contemporary—one who was equally ambitious but possessed sharply contrasting strengths and weaknesses.

Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas were close associates whose personal bond frayed after Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife. Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso swapped paintings, ideas, and influences as they jostled for the support of collectors like Leo and Gertrude Stein and vied for the leadership of a new avant-garde. Jackson Pollock's uninhibited style of "action painting" triggered a breakthrough in the work of his older rival, Willem de Kooning. Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon met in the early 1950s, when Bacon was being hailed as Britain's most exciting new painter and Freud was working in relative obscurity. Their intense but asymmetrical friendship came to a head when Freud painted a portrait of Bacon, which was later stolen.

"The Art of Rivalry is a captivating story of eight artists at the top of their game and how they got there by climbing each other's ladders." ---Shelf Awareness

"In a wonderful deep voice that evokes a seriousness of purpose, narrator Bob Souer also subtly incorporates the amusing undertones and explosive meltdowns in the text. . . . an absorbing, deft performance." ---AudioFile

"[An] engrossing book [that] reads like high-end art history . . . Mr. Smee’s skills as a critic are evident throughout." ---New York Times

"This ambitious and impressive work is an utterly absorbing read about four important relationships in modern art." ---Publishers Weekly Starred Review

"Smee’s double portraits are deeply moving, even haunting in their investigations of artistic and emotional symbioses of incalculable intricacy and consequence." ---Booklist Starred Review

“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.” ---Peter Schjeldahl art critic for The New Yorker
Publishers Weekly Review

Booklist Review

The Art of Rivalry

Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art

Author Sebastian Smee

Narrated by Bob Souer

Publication date Sep 27, 2016

Running time 10 hrs 24 min

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