Reflections: Art, Life and Love | Artistic Partnerships

This episode examines three famous partnerships between artists, looking into the ways these creative figures influenced each others’ artistic endeavours.

Siddal and Rosseti

We begin with the artist Elisabeth Eleanor Siddal, who was also the poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife and muse. We hear from two experts on Siddal – Frances Fowle, Professor of Nineteenth Century Art at Edinburgh College of Art and Lucinda Hawksley, author of the biography, Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel. Siddal died from an overdose of laudanum in 1862, aged 32. Hawskley believes the death was a suicide, which was covered up at the time for fear of bringing shame on both the Rossetti and Siddal families. As someone who posed regularly for her husband and other artists in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Siddal is often described as a muse, which discredits her own autonomy as an artist in her own right; defining her instead by the male gaze.

Miller and Picasso

The long running friendship between the photographer Lee Miller and Pablo Picasso is also discussed by Kirstie Meehan, an Archivist at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Looking through various intimate, playful photos from the 1930s when they first met, up to the 1960s, we see for example Picasso smoking a cigarette and having fun on a beach holiday with friends in France, or Picasso at work in his studio. Meehan finds two artistic equals who became fond friends that trusted and respected one another. The relationship began initially as one where Miller modelled for several portraits by Picasso and evolved into one where he respected her for her own artistic practice, allowing her to capture him on film while he was working.

Lee Miller Portrait of Picasso, Cannes 1958 © Lee Miller Archives, England 2016. All rights reserved.
Pablo Picasso Lee Miller 1937 © Succession Picasso. DACS, London 2023. Reproduced courtesy of a private collection on long term loan to the National Galleries of Scotland

Van Gogh and Gauguin

Finally Julian Bell, author of Van Gogh: A Power Seething, describes what he calls the “tortuous dynamic” between Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh and his friend, the French artist Paul Gauguin. Their complicated friendship unravelled in dramatic fashion, partly due to financial matters (Van Gogh’s brother Theo was an art dealer who sold Gauguin’s paintings) and also over disagreements on a portrait that Gauguin made of Van Gogh. The painting shows Van Gogh painting his famous sunflowers but Van Gogh considered the work a betrayal, believing Gauguin had made him look crazy in it. After flinging a glass of Absinthe over his friend, Van Gogh later mutilated himself by cutting his ear off. Despite their fraught relationship, they continued a civil correspondence through letters afterwards.

Pablo Picasso Lee Miller 1937 © Succession Picasso/DACS, London 2018.