The Artist’s Friend

Jamin An , University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Anne Rana , Independent Art Historian

Being identified as a great friend of artists, or ‘artist’s friend’, often elevates ancillary art historical figures, past and present. For some collectors, critics, curators, dealers—consider broadly drawn examples like Giorgio Vasari, Alain Locke, Gertrude Stein, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Okwui Enwezor or Geeta Kapur—friendship has represented a deep connection with a particular artist or signaled bonds of loyalty and support with many. Notwithstanding its assumed virtue and frequent invocation, the idea of the ‘artist’s friend’ has escaped meaningful definition.

This panel seeks to undertake a critical analysis of the ‘artist’s friend’, examining case studies that leverage friendship as a conceptual model of relation between artists and non-artists. Our inquiry aims to engage the broad theoretical terrain of friendship: its nature and value, the reciprocal self-knowledge and self-formation it cultivates, and the moral quandaries it raises.

Speakers & Abstracts

Je compte trop sur votre amieté’: Politics, Fashion, and Female Agency in Gérard and Juliette Récamier’s Epistolary Friendship

Tania Sheikhan
(University College London)

During her lifetime, Juliette Récamier (1777-1849) was often referred to as the most beautiful woman in France. Within the country’s post-revolutionary Directory and Consulate epoch, Récamier ran a salon that boasted prominent political figures and writers among its frequent guests. Récamier’s own legacy however is one of seemingly total passivity: praise aside, the impression we are left with is one of placid docility. Récamier was greatly admired, yet incapable of articulating her own thoughts and ideas. This proposal examines François Gérard’s portrait of Récamier. At the time, Gérard (1770-1837) was one of the period’s most successful artists, whose services Napoléon would request for his coronation portrait in 1805. The focus of this study is Récamier and Gérard’s epistolary exchange. By turning to documents, essays and most importantly, letters they wrote to one another, this study explores a discourse on Récamier that Gérard challenged both overtly and covertly. I will situate just how critical her friendship with Gérard was in the construction of her public persona. Their exchange highlights the understanding on self-image which existed between artist and sitter. Gérard, as I will argue, envisioned Récamier as she envisioned herself. Their friendship leads to this study’s argument that the articulation and presentation of self image in the early nineteenth century was no less layered and complex than the creation of material images. In fact, it illustrates just how much Gérard’s portrait is an image of her making as much as it is of his, thus providing us with a unique model of agency, creativity, and artistry.


Sharing the Place of Origin as ‘Social Capital’: Artists and their Dōkyō Friends in Edo-Tokyo

Mengfei Pan (Kokugakuin University)

This paper examines the dōkyō (sharing one’s place of origin) relationship in Edo-Tokyo, Japan in the second half of the nineteenth century. It argues that this relationship functions as one “social capital” as conceptualized by Pierre Bourdieu. While the “hometown-based associations” have been one subject matter of urban sociology, it has not yet been fully scrutinized in relation with the social networks of artists. Through case studies of a few artists that moved into the transitioning city Edo or Tokyo which was established as the new capital of the country in 1868, this paper elucidates the significance of dōkyō in the aesthetic world. The cases not only reveal that the dōkyō relationship was at work but also the bond within the same han (domains) in the feudal Edo period (1603-1868). This social tie motivated the artists to settle down in the specific areas in the city Edo-Tokyo and formed a supporting network among the local merchants, peer artists, and influential politicians. Dōkyō facilitated the production, circulation, and evaluation of the artworks and bound together an immigrant community based on both place of origin and aesthetic orientation. It served as a kind of social capital for an artist to establish and secure his/her position in the artistic field particularly in the dynamic urban context.

The Artist as Magic Mirror: Count Étienne de Beaumont and Friends

Amanda Beresford
(Independent Art and Dance Historian)


This paper examines Count Étienne de Beaumont, the flamboyant socialite and would-be Maecenas of Paris’s années folles, as a case study of one who craved artistic friendships not only as entries into a world he desired to inhabit and lead, but for self-validation of his personal fantasies. Beaumont possessed impeccable taste and fierce artistic ambition but little original talent; instead he excelled in collecting human genius, surrounding himself with stellar modernist painters, writers, musicians and dancers: Picasso, Cocteau, Proust, Satie, Massine and many more, all of whom he regarded as dear friends. His relations with these artists traversed intersecting roles: he was variously acolyte, patron, benefactor, saviour, supplicant, and exploiter, commissioning their art and music, producing their theatre, promoting their writing, and using them to theatricalize his lavish costume balls. The recipients of these attentions served, not always wittingly, as his magic mirror, enabling the narcissistic creation of his own fabulous work of art—himself. Beaumont’s love for his artists and their work was genuine and his desire to promote avant-garde art sincere, if self-serving, but friendship was compromised by inequalities of class and power, so could never be spontaneous; self-interest on both sides undermined relationships. The paper analyzes Beaumont’s most important artistic friendships: with Proust, Satie, and Picasso, revealing the ambivalent dynamics that complicated each, from philanthropy to adoration to jealousy. Finally, it discloses friendship turned toxic, parasitic: Beaumont commissioned then appropriated as his own a film from his “friend” Man Ray, effacing the artist in his quest to be one himself.

Beatrice Wood: Artist, Friend, Muse
Talia Kwartler
(University College London)

During the early years of World War I, when fighting raged abroad and New York became the home to a close-knit group of expatriate artists, a triadic friendship developed between two artists, Beatrice Wood and Marcel Duchamp, and one dealer, Henri-Pierre Roché. This relationship was a multi-faceted one, ranging from the amicable to the amorous to the creative.

Duchamp and Roché knew each other from Paris and reconvened in New York when Roché arrived in 1916, a year after Duchamp moved there. They met Beatrice Wood at the hospital bedside of the composer Edgar Varèse, a mutual friend they were visiting. The most concrete record of their friendship and collaboration is the double-issue journal The Blind Man (April/May 1917). They were co-editors of this irreverent journal, which famously published a photograph of Fountain by “R. Mutt” after it was rejected from the Society of Independent Artists Exhibition. Although Wood was a central to this friendship, far more attention has been devoted to the dialogue between Duchamp and Roché. This paper refocuses attention on Wood as a means to reconsider the nature of this relationship. Turning the spotlight to Wood makes it possible to redefine the features of artistic friendship because she contains multiple positions – artist, friend muse – all on her own. In doing so, we can better understand the dynamic between Wood-Duchamp-Roché as an important piece of the transatlantic Dada group.


Russell Cheney and His Circle: Muses, Counselors, Modernists

Kevin D. Murphy
(Vanderbilt University)

The now little-known painter Russell Cheney (1881-1945) exhibited regularly in New York City galleries during his lifetime and his work was collected by major institutions. Although he came from a wealthy Connecticut family, he was serious about painting and advancing modern art. Today, he takes on special interest because of his decades-long partnership with the literary critic F.O. Matthiessen (1902-50) to whom Cheney was both lover and muse. Cheney suggested the topic of Matthiessen’s earliest book, a biography of regionalist writer Sarah Orne Jewett (1929); Cheney’s and Matthiessen’s life together inspired Matthiessen’s influential book American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman (1941). Cheney’s paintings of both working-class neighborhoods and historic buildings of Portsmouth, New Hampshire and the nearby areas of southern Maine submit both gritty and picturesque subjects to his abstracting vision. This “queer” perspective evolved largely in the context of his relationship with Matthiessen, but his larger circle of friends—the subject of this paper—was also instrumental to his development and reputation. Phelps Putnam (1894-1948), a poet, was a life-long friend of Cheney’s and played the important role of helping Cheney battle the alcoholism to which he eventually succumbed. Another friend (through Matthiessen), Louis Hyde, served as literary executor to the couple, and edited their correspondence for publication in 1978. Cheney’s circle exemplifies the inspirational roles that the artist’s friends can play, but also the important functions they often take on of helping to navigate personal challenges and ensuring their posthumous reputations.

“I am furious when you don’t see it”: The Psychoanalytical Collaboration of Peter Fuller and Robert Natkin

James Brown (Bath Spa University)

In March of 1978, the English critic Peter Fuller visited his friend, Robert Natkin, the American abstract painter, at his farm in Redding, Connecticut. At the time Fuller was struggling to reconcile a Marxist approach to criticism with an increasing concern with both the spiritual dimensions of art and the biological constants between human beings. Fuller had never been a supporter of colourfield painting until seeing Natkin’s work for the first time, which caused him to question what it was about the painter’s work that attracted him.

This paper examines how the visit in 1978 provided Fuller with an opportunity to reassess not only the paintings and his own approach to them, but also, in doing so, to reassess his relationship with art and criticism more broadly, thereby leading Fuller to develop a more psychoanalytically-orientated approach. At the same time, Fuller’s journal suggests that the intense critical relationship between the two also proved productive for Natkin, with emotional conversations in the studio challenging Natkin’s relationship with his own work, not least through Fuller’s assessment that his work ‘could not deal with suffering’.

Exploring the creative outcomes of this friendship, I shall argue that it played significant roles in both the ongoing development of Fuller’s criticism and of Natkin’s painting. In Fuller’s case, his stay in a converted barn attached to Natkin’s studio provided him with a fresh perspective (both theoretically and literally). For Natkin, the challenge offered by the critic led the painter to explore darker themes in his work, resulting in a revised conception of colourfield painting.





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