For Better or Worse – 7 Famous Art Couples Who Defined Art History

Shown: Famous Photographer and Designer, Lillian Bassman and Paul Himmel, famous Photographer. They Met at age 6 and again at 13. Started living together when she was 15. They were married for 73 years.

Salvador Dali and Gala - Muse and business manager

1. Dali and Gala – Dangerous Muse?

In 1929 the 25-year-old Dalí met Gala, wife and muse, whose real name was Elena Ivanovna Diakonova. A mysterious and highly intuitive Russian woman, she was able to recognize artistic and creative genius when she saw it.

Gala inspired many of Dalí’s artworks and was also his business manager. She seemed to tolerate Dalí’s dalliances with younger women, secure in her own position as his primary relationship. Dalí continued to paint her as they both aged, producing sympathetic and adoring images.

Did she really tolerate his bad behavior – find out more


Stieglitz photo of Georgia O'Keeffe

2. Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stiglitz – Captivated

When Stieglitz and O’Keeffe met in 1916, he was 52 and famous — an internationally acclaimed photographer, with an avant-garde gallery in Manhattan. She, on the other hand, was 28 and unknown. Stieglitz was captivated with her and it shows in his dozens of famous nude photos that captured her mystery and beauty.

O’Keeffe becomes a famous artist it was said — thanks in large part to Steiglitz’s promotion of her.

However, can he really take credit for her success?
More on her success here


3. Henry Ossawa Tanner and Jessie Olsson – Love Wins

Henry Ossawa Tanner was an American painter and the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim. He frequently depicted biblical scenes and is best known for the paintings “Nicodemus Visiting Jesus,” “The Banjo Lesson” and “The Thankful Poor.”

In 1899 he married Jessie Olsson, a white Swedish-American opera singer. Supportive and proud of his work, she is seen in many of his paintings. She faced a lot of criticism from society at that time which was not accepting of interracial marriage.

Jessie Tanner died in 1925, twelve years before her husband, and he grieved her deeply through the Twenties. He sold the family home in Les Charmes where they had been so happy together. They are buried next to each other in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine. They had a son Jesse, who survived Tanner at his death.

See more of Henry Ossawa Tanners work here


Early photos of Diego and Frida

4. Frida and Diego – A match made in heaven… or hell?

Diego met Frida Kahlo in 1922, whom he married in 1929.  The marriage lasted just five short years; the two separated in 1934 and divorced in 1938, although they would remarry just two years later. Rivera was a passionate, volatile man in many aspects of his life, including his relationship with and marriage to Frida Kahlo, perhaps the most loved of the many women in his life. While fidelity was always an issue in the marriages between Frida and Diego, there is no doubt that the two shared a passion not only for painting and art, but for each other.

“There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the train the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”
― Frida Kahlo

Read more about Frida and Diego’s passionate relationship here


5. Charles and Nancy Russell – She won his heart and inspired his work

Charlie Russell, cowboy artist and famous artist of the Old American West proclaimed “I would sacrifice it all for Mrs. Russell”.

In 1896, Russell married his wife Nancy. He was 32 and she was 18. Under her support and guidance, Russell gained national recognition and successfully marketed his art.

“I don’t lay any claim to being a genius, but I will say my wife has been an inspiration to me in my work. Without her I would probably never have attempted to soar or reach any height, further than to make a few pictures for my friends and old acquaintances in the west. I still love and long for the old west, and everything that goes with it. But I would sacrifice it all for Mrs. Russell…”

Read more about Cowboy Artist Charles Russell


6. Elaine DeKooning and Willem de Kooning – More than a wife

Before they married, Willem was Elaine’s teacher and would instruct her in drawing and painting. Mutual admiration led to marriage. Though a nontraditional marriage.

Elaine DeKooning mastered her style of abstract art and became famous by her own talent and also promoted the art of Willem.

Elaine is credited as the significant influence on making Willem de Kooning the leading name in New York art circles because of her well-placed flirtations, skillful writing of reviews in art magazines, and ability to speak forcefully in private and public lectures.

As a married couple they had strong emotional ties, and yet each had numerous sexual relationships with other persons. They separated in the 1960s but reconciled in the 1970.

Read more about the Elaine DeKooning


Lillian Bassman and Paul Himmel in New York, 2003 © Karin Kohlberg, 2003

7.Lillian Bassman and Paul Himmel – A long exposure captured

Lillian Bassman was a famous photographer, art director, graphic designer and painter best known for her work in fashion photography. She is considered to be one of the most important fashion photographers of the 20th century.

In the 1940’s working as a graphic designer she was ‘discovered’ for her visual talent by Photographer Richard Avedon and encouraged towards a career in photography.

She first met her future husband, photographer Paul Himmel (born 1914), at Coney Island at age six. They met again at 13, and started living together when she was 15. They were married in 1935, and had two children. Himmel died in 2009 after 73 years of marriage

Discover the work of Lillian Bassman

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