KAZoART invites you to (re)discover five memorable and famous couples whose relationships made a mark on art history, changing it for better or for worse. Let’s take a glance at these artistic romances that are tinged with infidelity, mental illness and more than anything, passion.

1. Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera

Frida Kahlo et Diego Rivera (Mexique, 1933)
Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera (Mexique, 1933) / © Martin Munkácsi

Kahlo and Riviera were an unusual couple for sure. Their relationship was obscure yet impassioned as the two artists bonded over the politics of their home country of Mexico, both deeply attached to their native land. When Frida was young, she suffered from Polio. Even after receiving treatment, its aftermath afflicted her for the rest of her life. During her teenage years, she was in a horrific bus accident, further adding to her physical ailments. Nonetheless, it was love at first sight when the couple met in 1927.

Despite Diego’s infidelity, a great love story emerged from their meeting. The couple’s romance continued until Kahlo’s death in 1954. Their story is one of two partners engaged in art and politics. However, it was Riviera who maintained a certain mobility that Kahlo never had due to her illness. The cause of her death is often debated as some think it to be a suicide. Near the end of her life, she wrote, “I keep on wanting to kill myself. Diego is what keeps me from it, through my vain idea that he would miss me. … But never in my life have I suffered more. I will wait a while…” Her ashes are at La Casa Azul where a museum has been opened in her honour.

2. Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely

Niki de Saint Phalle et Jean Tinguely (1968)
Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely (1968) / © Jill Krementz

When they met in 1955, Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely were already married to their respective spouses. However, that wasn’t enough to keep them apart. As young artists, their collaboration made its mark on modern sculpture forever. The couple’s first encounter was when Niki called on Jean to help her weld an iron frame for a sculpture she wished to realise.

Thus was the beginning of a beautiful artistic adventure, as they inspired one another’s pursuits. Works such as the Stravinsky Fountain in Paris or the Hon Project were the fruit of their collaboration.

For five years, their relationship was remained friendly and artistic. Then, in the 1960’s, they decided to move in together. Their relationship was then filled with both passion and strife. They were “two sculptors very attached to one another” who were nonetheless opposed both in their worldviews, ideologies, and even in parts of their artistic preferences. They fought often but chose to overlook these differences and marry in 1971, bearing no children.

3. Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin

Portrait de Camille Claudel (avant 1883)
Portrait de Camille Claudel (avant 1883)
Adolphe Braun, Portrait de Rodin les cheveux en brosse (vers 1889)
Adolphe Braun, Portrait de Rodin les cheveux en brosse (vers 1889)

Camille Claudel met Auguste Rodin at the age of nineteen and became his student a few years later. As an apprentice, she was quickly held in a high regard. Camille helped him create some of his best-known masterpieces such as The Burghers of Calais and The Gates of Hell.

There is one bothersome aspect of their story: Rodin claims exclusive authorship of his sculptures. This didn’t keep Camille from succumbing to the advances of her teacher. Throwing herself into what is for Rodin, an extramarital affair, Camille found it increasingly difficult to deal with his fickle nature.

Since Rodin refused to end his marriage for her, Camille left him to become an autonomous artist. But she could not seem to escape Rodin’s influence as it continually haunted her. In The Mature Age,she depicts herself kneeling and imploring in front of a Rodin who has abandoned her. As the years go by, her state worsens.

Far from being spared by her own misery, her mother institutionalised her in 1913. She spent the last thirty years of her life locked away with no desire to sculpt. Despite his concern for his former student and lover, Rodin never came to visit her.

4. Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso

Dora Maar et Pablo Picasso
Dora Maar and Pablo Picasso

In addition to painting, Picasso also had a great passion for women. Among the seven with whom he shared his life, one of them was particularly special to him: Dora Maar. Dora, a photographer, was 28 years old when she met Picasso. He was 28 years her senior. She often affirmed with conviction that he was her teacher and true love.

She became an influencer, part of Picasso’s success. When they had first met, Picasso was post-separation recovery, after splitting with his ex-wife, Olga. The young Dora gave the Cubist painter a new artistic energy.

At the onset of the Spanish Civil War, Dora assisted in the birth of a true masterpiece, Guernica. But their story does not end there. Things became even more complicated when Picasso had a daughter with Marie- Thérèse Walter, his “official” partner. With undying devotion, Dora decided to forsake photography and pursue a career in painting, with the help of Picasso.

Even after taking steps to be together, their relationship shifted and Picasso lost interest. All we have to do is look at works such as Dora and the Minotaur and The Crying Woman to see how he felt about her. Swept up in a budding romance with Françoise Gilot, Picasso left his former muse. Dora then plunged into an unprecedented depression, thus ending this famous couple’s story.

5. Salvador and Gala Dali

Salvador et Gala Dali (New York, 1947)
Salvador and Gala Dali (New York, 1947)

53. That’s the number of years Salavador Dalí and Helene Diakonova (known as Gala) spent together. Their first meeting took place in the summer of 1929. Gala was already married to the poet Paul Eluard with whom she had a daughter. Things transpired quickly and Dalí came to see her as a real muse, a crazy inspiration. Gala had become his reason for creating art.

She left her husband to devote herself to a new love story. The two married in 1958 and have since become a mythical and iconic couple in art history. Their marriage was unconventional and unusual, especially given that Dalí claimed to have never consummated it. Their platonic relationship endured as he “kept her happy and made her shine” while she was his muse until the end. Gala died in Spain in 1982, Dalí outlived her by seven years.