Fascinating Photos That Capture Famous Artists’ Friendships


French photographer Lucien Clergue, who penned the autobiography Picasso My Friend, passed away this month. His achievements as co-founder of the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival, a knight of the Légion d’honneur, and member of the Académie des Beaux-Arts are not nearly as well-known as his 30-year friendship with the Spanish painter known for his stormy temperament.

“I had a good fortune to meet Pablo Picasso at a bullring. I had stopped playing violin, and for the lack of funds I could not go to school in Paris. I started taking photographs with different cameras owned by a man close to my home,” Clergue wrote. “Picasso signed one of the print, not my best, but now it is the most expensive. When I reached the age of 20 I was still working in a factory, but I was taking photographs of five children dressed with clothes designed by me [inspired by Picasso’s circus paintings]. I was trying to make Picasso happy: he had said at the bullring, ‘I want to see more prints.’”

Their relationship lasted until Picasso’s death in 1973. “Picasso died and left me an artistic orphan,” a devastated Clergue said. Their close friendship is revealed in photos of the artists together and Clergue’s portraits of the painter in his studio. We gathered other photos of famous artist friends — some candid and others formal — that tell a story about their relationship. Share your own picks, below.

Vincent van Gogh and Émile Bernard

Van Gogh made several paintings of bridges over the Seine River, which is the setting of this rare 1886 photo of the painter (his back is turned) with friend and fellow Post-Impressionist Émile Bernard. The artists met while studying at the Atelier Cormon. In 1887, Van Gogh organized an exhibition that included the works of Bernard, Louis Anquetin, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec — the avant-garde painters of the “petit boulevard” — at the Grand-Bouillon Restaurant du Chalet. Bernard and Van Gogh kept in touch through lively letters, supporting each other and trading sketches. “Van Gogh’s letters to Bernard reveal the tenor of their relationship. Van Gogh assumed the role of an older, wiser brother [he was 15 years older than Bernard], offering praise or criticism of Bernard’s paintings, drawings, and poems,” writes The Morgan Library & Museum. “At the same time the letters chronicle van Gogh’s own struggles, as he reached his artistic maturity in isolation in Arles and St. Rémy. Throughout the letters are no less than twelve sketches by van Gogh meant to provide Bernard with an idea of his work in progress, including studies related to the paintings The Langlois Bridge, Houses at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Boats on the beach at Saintes-Maries, The Sower, and View of Arles at Sunset.”

Salvador Dalí and Man Ray

Dalí and Man Ray in Paris, 1934 — collaborators and leading figures amongst the Surrealists. Their faces say it all. Owen Wilson’s Gil sits with the icons at a café (played by Adrien Brody and Tom Cordier) and muses about his time travel trip in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. Man Ray, of course, photographed many of his famous friends.

Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon

From More Intelligent Life:

Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, the two giants of post-war British painting, met in 1945. Bacon was 36, Mr Freud not even 23. Mr Freud had heard about the mysterious Irish-born artist from Graham Sutherland. Shortly afterwards, Sutherland invited them both to spend the weekend at his English country house, and they met at the railway station on the way there. An intense bond quickly developed. “Once I met him I saw him a lot,” Mr Freud would recall later.

Camille Pissarro and Paul Cézanne

From the Musée d’Orsay:

Cézanne and Pissarro had first met two years previously, at the Académie de Charles Suisse in Paris. Soon a close bond of friendship and collaboration developed between the two artists. Cézanne found in Pissarro the same rejection of tradition and academic training which characterised his own work. He later wrote about his friend: “He had the good fortune to be born in the West Indies, where he learned how to draw without masters”. Pissarro, too, immediately recognised Cézanne’s genius. In a letter to his son Lucien, he recalled: “It was such an inspiration when in 1861, Oller and I went to see Cézanne at the Académie Suisse. That strange Provençal was painting academic studies that were the laughing stock of all those sterile students in the school. . . . ” For more than twenty years, until 1885, Cézanne and Pissarro were to work and experiment together, forming a genuine “pair” within the Impressionist group.

Leonor Fini and Leonora Carrington

Surrealist painter Leonora was the inspiration for the foreground figure in Leonor’s 1939 painting La Chambre noire . We imagine they talked about Max Ernst since both women had a relationship with the German artist.

Norman Rockwell and Grandma Moses

Down-home pals folk artist Grandma Moses and Saturday Evening Post illustrator Normal Rockwell lived across from each other over the Vermont-New York border. Look for a cameo from dear Grandma in Rockwell’s painting Christmas Homecoming (featured on the December 25, 1948 Saturday Evening Post cover).

Helen Frankenthaler and Grace Hartigan

Sisters in abstract expressionism, Helen Frankenthaler and Grace Hartigan forged a lasting friendship amongst the boys club that was the New York City scene. (That’s painter Joan Mitchell on the left.) There’s a journal entry from Hartigan that even sets the scene from the time during an outing at Frankenthaler’s place:

At Helen’s Saturday with the Pollocks, Clem [art critic Clement Greenberg], Barney Newman and [Friedel] Dzubas. Clem got on his kick of “women painters.” Same thing — too easily satisfied, “finish” pictures, polish, “candy;” said Al, Larry and Goodnough all struggle. Makes me realize how alone I am. Am I to scream at him “I struggle too, I do! I do!” He said he wants to be the contemporary of the first great woman painter. What shit — he’d be the first to attack.

Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol

From Basquiat Biography:

In just about any way you can think of, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol were very different artists. Yet they had a close and troubled friendship that surprisingly led to a huge body of varied and contradictory paintings that they worked on together. . . . Basquiat had been wanting to meet the famous Warhol since he was in high school, and made several attempts the wary older artist brushed off. But “In the autumn of 1982 I brought Jean-Michel to Andy Warhol in the Factory and this is how they really got to know each other,” says their mutual European dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. At that time, the two did portraits of each other. Still, it was not till later that they began painting together. . . . They made close to two hundred collaborative works, mostly between 1984 and the September 14, 1985 opening of the exhibition “Warhol & Basquiat: Paintings” at the Tony Shafrazi gallery in SoHo, New York. That show of 16 paintings first displayed their collaborative work to the public, and the initial negative reviews helped sour the relationship between Basquiat and Warhol. Basquiat was greatly saddened that he had not acted to repair the relationship by the time of Warhol’s sudden death in February, 1987 at the age of 58. Basquiat’s ongoing depression following Warhol’s death is credited by some as contributing to his increased drug use, and his own death in August 1988.