12 Prolific Creative Couples

Left: Leo Matiz, photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera., 1945 (printed circa 1990). Offered via Swann Auction Galleries (October 2017); Right: Irving Penn, "Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, Painters," ferrotyped silver print, 1947. Sold for $11,000 via Swann Auction Galleries (October 2017).

As in most professions, many artists end up forming romantic bonds within the occupation. Some couples work together to create one body of work, while others branch out into their own separate artistic endeavors. Regardless, each partner looks to the other for inspiration and support at one time or another.

In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, we explored some of art history’s most famous pairs. Read on to learn more about 12 of the most prolific creative couples in the past century.

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst

Irving Penn, “Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning, Painters,” ferrotyped silver print, 1947. Sold for $11,000 via Swann Auction Galleries (October 2017).

Dorothea Tanning and Max Ernst met in a New York gallery in 1942 and fell in love over a game of chess. Both artists were pioneers in the Surrealist movement, but Tanning emphasized that the pair never spoke about art. They were married in a double ceremony with fellow artist Man Ray and Juliet Man Ray, née Browner.

Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore

Gilbert & George, “Gilbert & George, 1987,” photograph mounted on cardboard. Sold for €1600 via Artcurial (December 2017).

Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore met at St. Martins School of Art in 1967. “It was love at first sight,” said George in a 2002 interview with The Telegraph. The couple works closely together on their provocative projects, which cover a wide spectrum of social issues and often incorporate performance art. Of their working relationship George said, “We are two people, but one artist.”

Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence

Left: Gwendolyn Knight, “Still life,” oil on canvas, 1960. Sold for $1,625 via Swann Auction Galleries (April 2016); Right: Jacob Lawrence, “Two Card Players,” gouache on composition board, circa 1941-42. Sold for $67,200 via Swann Auction Galleries (October 2010).

Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence met in New York City while they were both under the tutelage of sculptor Augusta Savage at the Harlem Community Art Center. Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at MoMA in the 1940s and taught at Black Mountain College during the summer of 1946. Knight painted throughout her life, but didn’t begin exhibiting until the 1970s after she and her husband moved to Seattle. Her work resides in the collections at MoMA, the St. Louis Art Museum, and the Seattle Art Museum, among others.

Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz

Left: Alfred Stieglitz, “Georgia O’Keeffe,” 1918. Sold for $1,625 via Heritage Auctions (May 2015); Right: Arnold Newman, “Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, An American Place, NYC,” gelatin silver print, 1944. Sold for $5,687 via Heritage Auctions (October 2014).

George O’Keeffe met Alfred Stieglitz in 1916 when he was a famous photographer in his 50s and she an art teacher in her 20s. Stieglitz held an exhibit of O’Keeffe’s works that year and invited her to move to New York so he could financially support her. The two developed a professional and personal relationship and married in 1924. Stieglitz often photographed O’Keeffe, and the couple sent many love letters to one another throughout their marriage.

Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock

Left: Lee Krasner, “Untitled,” oil on paper mounted on linen. Sold for $322,000 via Sotheby’s (September 2016); Right: Jackson Pollock, “Number 12,” oil on paper, 1949. Sold for $11,655,500 via Christie’s (May 2004).

Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock met while they were both exhibiting at the McMillen Gallery in 1942. At the time of their introduction, Krasner had finished her education at the National Academy of Design and was already an established artist. Krasner and Pollock greatly influenced one another’s styles, but Krasner’s legacy is too often intertwined with that of her husband.

Lorna Simpson and James Casebere

Left: Lorna Simpson, “The Car,” 1995. Sold for $39,400 via Phillips (May 2008); Right: James Casebere, “Pink Hallway #3,” cibachrome print, 2000. Sold for $57,000 via Sotheby’s (May 2006).

Lorna Simpson rose to prominence in the 1980s with large-scale works that incorporate photography and text to defy traditional ideas of identity and history. In 1990, she became the first African-American woman to exhibit at the Venice Biennale. Her husband James Casebere is also a photographer. His images explore globalization and suburban life, among other subjects.

Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns

Left: Robert Rauschenberg, “Untitled (Original Art for Quarry),” silkscreen ink on acetate and newsprint collage. Sold for $225,000 via Sotheby’s (March 2017); Right: Jasper Johns, “Figure 4,” oil, encaustic, and printed paper collage on canvas, 1959. Sold for $17,400,000 via Christie’s (May 2007).

Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg met in 1954 and formed a long-term, collaborative relationship. The artists’ work in mixed media became known as Neo-Dadaism, in deference to artist Marcel Duchamp. In the 1960s, Johns and Rauschenberg went their separate ways romantically and creatively. Today, they are both recognized as American icons and forerunners to the Pop Art movement.

Elaine and Willem de Kooning

Left: Rudy Burckhardt, portrait of Willem and Elaine de Kooning. Sold for $275 via James Cox Gallery (May 2011); Right: Ellen Auerbach, “Willem and Elaine de Kooning, New York,” silver print, 1940s. Offered via Swann Auction Galleries (February 2007).

Elaine and Willem de Kooning got married in 1943. Both were prolific Abstract Expressionist painters and part of the New York School, which included Jackson Pollock. Like Pollock’s wife Lee Krasner, Elaine de Kooning often signed her works with her initials so as not to be defined by her gender or spouse.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Marina Abramovic and Ulay, “Rest Energy,” cibachrome print, 1980. Sold for €8,750 via Artcurial (December 2016).

Performance artists Marina Abramović and Ulay began a relationship in 1976 that lasted twelve years. Together, they developed many iconic works of art. The couple decided to part ways in 1988 and commemorated the occasion with “The Great Wall Walk,” a performance in which they began at separate ends of China’s Great Wall and met in the middle to say goodbye.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Left: Leo Matiz, photograph of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera., 1945 (printed circa 1990). Offered via Swann Auction Galleries (October 2017); Right: Bernard Silberstein, photograph of Diego Rivera watching Kahlo paint, circa 1940 (printed 1980s). Sold for $3,120 via Swann Auction Galleries (April 2012).

Diego Rivera began to mentor Frida Kahlo while she was an aspiring creative and he one of Mexico’s most successful artists. The two married in 1929, divorced in 1939, and remarried in 1940. Though their relationship was tumultuous, they were fiercely supportive of one another’s careers. “Through her paintings, she breaks all the taboos of the woman’s body and of female sexuality,” said Rivera of Kahlo’s work. He also said that her death in 1954 was “The most tragic day of my life.”

Sonia and Robert Delaunay

Left: Sonia Delaunay, “Hippocampe,” woven tapestry circa 1970. Sold for €24,472 via Piasa (April 2016); Right: Robert Delaunay, “Black relief with colored circles,” oil, plaster, and sand on plywood. Sold for £162,500 via Sotheby’s (March 2017).

French artist and designer Sonia Delaunay met her husband Robert in 1909. The couple, along with other artists, co-founded the Orphism movement. An offshoot of Cubism, Orphism was based on pure abstraction and bright colors.

Of her husband Sonia said, “In Robert Delaunay I found a poet. A poet who wrote not with words but with colors.”

Ray and Charles Eames

Charles and Ray Eames, lounge chair and ottoman, 1956. Sold for €19,500 via Artcurial (October 2016).

Ray and Charles Eames met in 1941 when Ray helped Charles on the MoMA exhibit “Organic Design in Home Furnishings.” The two designers got married the same year and established a collaborative practice in Los Angeles, California. The couple made significant contributions to the development of modern architecture and furniture, most notably with the design of the Eames Lounge Chair and ottoman.