Creative Couples

Creative Couples

Over the centuries creative couples have been drawn together by similar interests and desires. The outcome of these relationships has greatly influenced the lives and careers of the individual artists, with personal belief, gender, societal influences, politics and religion determining the role of each partner.

As social, political, religious and gender issues were being challenged and the documentation of information became easier after the Industrial Revolution, creative couples of the late 1800s and early 1900s were written about more extensively, thus more is known about them. However, not as much is documented about creative couples prior to this.

With this in mind we will examine a variety of creative couples that lived within the period of 1750 till

1920. We will observe their highs and lows, the conflicts and encouragement as well as the turmoil and balance they brought each other, which will show the varied outcomes of their lives and consequently their careers.

Living in any relationship with another person is bound to influence both parties immeasurably. Whether the relationship is positive or negative depends on the individual’s beliefs, personality and actions within the relationship. Creative couples have been particularly influenced by the social climate of their times.

An example is the relationship between Gabriel Munter and Wassily Kandinsky. Munter went to study at the unofficial Phalanx Art School, of which Kandinsky was a founder, because official art schools in Germany were closed to women at that time. Their relationship lasted for more than 10 years.

During this time Munter often frustrated Kandinsky. All though he could see her talent, he was amazed and exasperated by her personal style and remarked, “You are hopeless as a student – one can teach you nothing.” (Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976) However, Munter found in him the inspiration she needed to press forward her claim as an artist in her own right, later saying, “He loved, understood, treasured and encouraged my talent.” (Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976).

Their relationship had ended by the time the war started in 1914. Kandinsky returned to his homeland, devastating Munter, who moved to Stockholm. ‘Her paintings of the time revel the tension and isolation she suffered. Instead of brilliant landscapes and portraits of her friends, she turned to thoughtful, frequently melancholy studies of women. Then in 1918 the paintings stop; the trauma of separation from Kandinski seems to have jarred her very sense of herself as an artist’ (Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976)

As creativity is such a personal and emotional outpouring of who we are individually, conflict between creative couples is inevitable. The relationship of Camiile Claudel and Auguste Rodin is well known and much is recorded about them, including a film titled Camille Claudel – The Story of Rodin’s Mistress. Claudel was twenty years younger than Rodin when they met in 1893 and they embarked on a relationship that was turbulent, complex and volatile.

When Paul Claudel wrote on the subject of the relationship between Rodin and his sister, he demonstrates clearly the emotional and creative conflicts between them. “And besides, two geniuses of equal power and of different ideals could not continue to share the same studio and the same customers. Separation was necessity for the man, but for my sister it meant complete, profound, and final catastrophe. The sculptors profession is for a man a constant challenge to common sense: for an isolated woman having my sister’s temperament it is a pure impossibility. She staked everything on Rodin, and she lost everything in losing him.” (Descharnes Robert and Jean-Francois Chabrun, 1967)

With a similar outcome in their relationship as with Kandinsky and Munter, claudel’s creative expression of how she felt about her turbulent relationship with Rodin and his distancing himself from her toward the end of their relationship is clearly illustrated in her piece L’Age mur. In the work Camille is on her knees, trying to hold Rodin back, while he turns away from her toward an older woman, Rose, who was Rodin’s unofficial wife. This is said to be the most autobiographical work done by Claudel.

It is evident that Rodin encouraged Claudel as much as he could considering their times. He supported her in many ways, recognizing her talent as her own, “I helped her find gold in art, but it was all in herself.” (Willian Harlane Hale and the editors of Time Life Books, 1972).

Rodin also encouraged and assisted Claudel with exhibiting her work. “She was mad about sculpture – to such a point that, during the fifteen years of their stormy liason, Rodin considered her more equal than pupil. This is reflected in a will he made twenty years after they had parted, which specified that a room be dedicated to her sculpture in thre Rodin Museum which he was to bequeath to the State after his death, confirmiung his high regard for her work.” (Descharnes Robert and Jean-Francois Chabrun, 1967).

Others found contentment in their relationships, despite their differences. Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred

Stiegloitz met after a friend of O’Keefe’s, Anita Pollitzer, gave O’Keefe’s work to Stieglitz to hang in his gallery, 291. When O’Keefe found out she went to New York to meet Stieglitz and from that eeting began the relationship that was to last until his death in 1946. O’Keefe spoke of the sense of balance in their relationship, “The relationship that Stieglitz and I had was very good, because it was built on something more than just emotional needs. Each of us was really interested in what the other was doing… Of course, you do your best to destroy each other without knowing it – some people do it knowingly and some do it unknowingly. But if you have a real basis, and we did, you get along pretty well despite the differences.” (Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976).

Support and encouragement was also an important part of O’Keefe’s and Stieglitz’ relationship and the outcome was a positive one. Stieglitz gave O’Keefe the support she needed and helped her with her desire to become an artist in her own right. “From their first meeting, Stieglitz and O’Keefe exhilarated, released and inspired one another. He began to photograph her during her visits to New York. In 1918 he asked her what she would like to do most in the world. ‘Paint’, she replied. Since she could not afford to give up teaching, Stieglitz offered her a year in which to realize her dream. She accepted.” (Dorothy Norman, 1973)

An example of dedicated support shown by a partner, to the extent that they gave up their creative work, is shown by Lilly Spencer and Benjamin Rush Spencer. Lilly moved to Cincinnati in 1841 where she exhibited in a number of exhibitions and studied for a short time with a resident portraitist. Three years later, in 1844, she met Benjamin, ”'”who devoted himself to managing her career and taking care of their seven surviving children. Although she never made much money and was always struggling to keep the family going, Spencer became an extremely popular painter, producing still life’s, allegories, and literary pictures, and achieving particular success with her humorous domestic subjects.” (Heller Nancy G, 1987).

The styles or techniques used by individuals are often influenced by the creative partner with whom they work so closely. The creative influence on each other is an unavoidable aspect of the relationship. The work of creative couple Susan Eakins and Thomas Eakins, who met at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and married in 1884, was often commented on by critics of the time. “Her works do display the same sense of contemplative quiet, the same rich, dark backgrounds, the same eloquent but never fussy details, and the same interest in individual personalities that are so characteristic of Thomas Eakins’s art.”

(Heller Nancy G, 1987). This similarity is clearly demonstrated by Two Sisters by Susan Eakins and Gross Clinic, by Thomas Eakins.

Sometimes the similarities may be consciously invoked, such as ‘When Camille sculpted Rodin, it was in a style akin to his own rough, realistic manner with men.’ (William Harlan hale and the Editors of Time Life Books, 1972). Claudel also had an influence on Rodin’s work, ‘Rodin was overwhelmed by her, and she him: they became not only lovers but profound partners in experience. It was after he met her that his sculpture took on their extraordinary erotic power. Here, alive, was the superior female he had been dreaming of in art. Camille posed for him, in turn sculpted him, and collaborated with him in his studio.’ (William Harlan Hale and the Editors of Time-Life Books, 1972)

Sonia Delaunay and Robert Dalaunay, who married in 1910, are an example of how creative couples work together to produce complimentary works. Their ideals were well aligned and the works they produced together had a powerful effect. ‘Certainly there are few couples who have achieved so successful a merging of artistic and personal concerns as Sonia and Robert Delaunay. Together they worked out the tenets of Orphism, and the paintings Market at the Minho and Homage to Bleriot demonstrate their theories of colour and rhythm.’ (Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976).

Creative couples have and will continue to struggle for their own identity and personal ambition to be creative and recognized for their own work. The forces involved in these creative relationships have often been beyond each individual’s control, with outcomes that have varied greatly. More often than not these relationships have turned out differently to what each individual expected when they began.

Creative partnerships are often living paradoxes through which both individual’s creativity can excel or fail. Despite the turbulent and devastating effect that these relationships have on some people, the positive aspects of encouragement, support, inspiration, and creative influences shine through. Whether the outcome of their works and lives is catastrophic or fulfilling, in the end it comes down to individual will and how each partner responds within their relationships.

ABC TV Program, The Big Picture: City of Dreams, Thursday, April 12, 2001, 9.30pm Stanley, 1995, Sonia Delaunay – The Life of an Artist, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London Chadwick Whitney, 1996, Women, Art and Society, Thames and Hudson Ltd, London

Descharnes Robert and Jean-Francois Chabrun, 1967, Auguste Rodin, Macmillian and Company Ltd, London

Hale Harlan, Willian and the Editors of Time-Life Books, 1972, The World of Rodin, Time-Life International, Nederland, N.V.

Heller, Nancy G., 1987, Women Artists – an Illustrated History, Cross River Press Ltd.

Kaufnam Philip, film by, Henry & June, Universal Pictures presents a Walrus & associates, Ltd. Production

Laurent Monique, 1988, Rodin, Konecky & Konecky, New York

Munro Elanor, 1979 Originals: American Women Artists, Simon and Schuster, A Division of Gulf and Western Corporation, New York

Norman, Dorothy, 1973, Alfred Stiegletz: An American Seer, Appeture, Inc., Millerton, New York

Nuytten Bruno, Film by, 1989, Camille Claudel – The Story of Rodin’s Mistress, based on the biography by Reine-Marie Paris, released by Premium films

Petersen Karen & J.J. Wilson, 1976, Women Artists – Recognition and Reappraisal from the Early Middle Ages to the Twentieth Century, Harper Colophon Books, Harper and Row, Publishers, Hardcover edition published by New York University Press

Rose Phyllis, 1985, Parallel Lives – Five Victorian Marriages, Penguin Books Ltd, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England