Everyone loves a good feud. This has proven itself time and time again in our society’s latent obsession with dueling figures in the public, specifically of the creative variety-- did we or did we not ravenously read articles about Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus post-2015 Video Music Awards? Is it any coincidence that Drake’s song Back to Back, a track specifically written to diss Meek Mill, is nominated for a Grammy, or that we guilty-pleasure belt to Bad Blood when we think no one is judgmentally eyeballing us from the neighboring car? Actors and musicians aren’t the only people who grapple with a case of the adversarial. There are many dark spots in art history which are marked by the spite and contempt that artists had for one another, and boy is it a fun list.
Here are a few of my favorite artist-on-artist feuds (most are visual artists, but some are masters of other crafts):
Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo
Jacopino del Conte, Portrait of Michelangelo, c 1535
This relationship is often glossed over in typical history classes. Stylistically opposed but both resoundingly genius, contemporary lore suggests that Da Vinci and Michelangelo competed for recognition and patronage in Italy. They were both commissioned to work on the same council hall and to paint directly across from one another, which went as well as one might anticipate. Supposedly these two even exchanged slights and snide remarks on the streets. I am in no way actively supporting the validity of these claims, but none of this would be surprising. Two artists lauded in their time, working around one other’s egos, is asking for mutually assured destruction.
Lorenzo Ghiberti and Filippo Brunelleschi
Dome of the Santa Maria del Fiore, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, c. 1436
Both men were burgeoning Renaissance sculptors and faced off viciously in none other than Florence. In 1401, Ghiberti and Brunelleschi entered a competition to design bronze doors for the Florence Baptistery. The competition was close, but Ghiberti won; it’s suggested that Ghiberti and Brunelleschi might have even tied. Brunelleschi, wounded from his loss, went on and forged a career in architecture. The two crossed again in 1418 when they competed to design a dome (cupola) for the Santa Maria del Fiore. This time Brunelleschi bested Ghiberti and was offered the position of superintendent over the cupola project. Ghiberti, however, was a bit of a golden boy in Florence, so he was offered a job as co-superintendent and earned the same salary to boot. This partnership led to unprecedented chicanery. Brunelleschi went as far as to feign ill and put Ghiberti in the hot seat-- masons and carpenters were at a loss as to how to construct the beams necessary for a tension rig, and only after Ghiberti assisted in placing some of the beams did Brunelleschi make a miraculous recovery, and just in time to insult his adversary’s work. He cast just enough shade on Ghiberti to acquire a pay raise.
Picasso and Matisse
I think most of this goes without saying, but there’s a detailed article about the complex Picasso-Matisse relationship on the Smithsonian Magazine’s website. Both men studied and privately revered one another’s work, especially for the vitality it infused in their own art. If ever there were frenemies, they were the ultimate pair.
James McNeill Whistler and the World
Seriously, this guy had beef with everyone. James Whistler had as many petty opponents as H.G. Wells had sinewy affairs. In the same mantra as “art for art’s sake,” Whistler should have coined the phrase “arguing for the sake of arguing.” Whistler wrote a book that was entirely compiled of frivolous squabble and banter between himself and acquaintances (The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, the very inspiration for this post). His book was partially written in response to his infamous libel suit against critic John Ruskin.
To exemplify his combative nature, I leave you with a light-hearted transgression between Oscar Wilde and Whistler before their relationship went sour:
Wilde, in a telegram to Whistler: “Punch too ridiculous. When you and I are together we never talk about anything except ourselves.”
Whistler: “No, no, Oscar, you forget. When you and I are together, we never talk about anything except me.”
Lesson learned: if you want to be recognized in the world of art, you first need to develop a solid, life-long enemy.