About the book

Genius, friend, rival: this is the story of four pairs of artists whose intense relationships spurred and shaped their art.

Matisse and Picasso. Manet and Degas. Bacon and Freud. De Kooning and Pollock. Eight of the most significant modern artists; four pairs linked by friendship and a shared spirit of competitiveness.

Absorbing, informed and provocative, Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry offers revelatory insights into the ways in which these major artists influenced and changed each other—and into their ultimate quest ‘to be unique, original, inimitable; to acquire the solitude, the singularity, of greatness’.

Book cover - The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Sebastian Smee
Published by: 
Text Publishing

About the author


Sebastian Smee is the Boston Globe’s art critic. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 and a winner in 2011. His writing about art has appeared in many of the leading papers in Australia, the UK and the US. He grew up in Adelaide.

Image of author Sebastian Smee

Judges’ comments

The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Mr Sebastian Smee 

The Australian Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sebastian Smee has written a subtle and complex exploration of the affection and competition experienced by four sets of friends - all of them male artists.

Smee looks at how these friendships affected the work of the eight men - Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas; Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso; Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock; Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Smee’s decision to examine the lives of some of the West’s most important artists through the prism of their friendships is original and adds to our understanding of their work. In the process, Smee offers intelligent and universal observations on the deep connections between love, friendship, competition and envy.

This is a very well-written book, which showcases Smee’s expertise and knowledge as an internationally acclaimed art critic. But the text is accessible, informative, entertaining and interesting. It’s a book based on a smart idea, which has been beautifully executed by a confident and mature writer.