Sometimes it’s better to be alone. Below are a few artists who we wouldn’t particularly like to spend a romantic Valentine’s Day with, from the over-sharing to the unstable to the plain unsettling.

Auguste Rodin

Detail of Rodin's "The Kiss" (via Milan Sijan/Flickr)

Detail of Rodin’s “The Kiss” (via Milan Sijan/Flickr)

Sure, Rodin created some insanely romantic art, like “The Kiss” (referencing, perhaps less charmingly, two damned lovers in Dante’s Inferno) and the twined bodies (another damned couple, actually) in “Fugit Amor,” but as a partner he wasn’t quite as swoon-worthy. At least that was true for Camille Claudel, a fellow sculptor and a model, whose passionate and tumultuous relationship with Rodin was the backdrop for his most sensual sculptures. Claudel trained as an artist under Rodin, and while she was incredibly talented in her own right (her sculptures are held by the Musée d’Orsay), it was hard to get out of her lover’s shadow, especially as a female artist in the 19th century. He also refused to stop seeing Rose Beuret, the mother of his son (it would be 53 years into their relationship that Rodin would marry Beuret). All of this compounded with Claudel’s emerging psychological problems, and she fell into depression and soon poverty, destroying most of her work (90 pieces survive), and was hauled away to a mental institution where she spent the last 30 years of her life.

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso, "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" (via Wikimedia)

Pablo Picasso, “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (via Wikimedia)

Pablo Picasso didn’t just love women as Cubist subjects, the flesh and blood kind were equally adored. Unfortunately for these women, he tended to quickly lose interest and easily move onto the next, such as Eva Gouel (while Goeul was on her deathbed, Picasso found comfort in the bed of Gaby Lespinasse) and 17-year-old Marie-Thérèse Walter (who Picasso moved in with in a house right across the street from his wife Olga Khokhlova, and used as the subject for “Le rêve”). Walter hanged herself soon after Picasso’s death. Poet and photographer Dora Maar apparently could not stop crying after her break with Picasso so she had to take “crying tablets,” and his second wife Jacqueline Roque would shoot herself right after RSVPing to a Picasso retrospective in 1986.

Forrest Bess

Forrest Bess, Untitled No. 12 A, 1957. Oil on canvas, 12 × 18 in. (30.5 × 45.7 cm). Collection of Andrew Masullo. Photograph by Wilfred J. Jones (via the Whitney Museum of American Art)

Forrest Bess, Untitled No. 12 A, 1957. Oil on canvas, 12 × 18 in. (30.5 × 45.7 cm). Collection of Andrew Masullo. Photograph by Wilfred J. Jones (via the Whitney Museum of American Art)

Visitors to the Whitney Biennial last year may remember the room of strange paintings and graphic photographs from the late reclusive artist Forrest Bess, who performed self-surgery to become a “pseudo-hermaphrodite” (I’ll spare you the image, but if you must) to merge within his body the male and the female. While experimental self-surgery has its place … um, somewhere, and Bess’ paintings with their odd imagery like eyes and unicorns have something engagingly creepy, we might want to stay just friends.

Tracey Emin

Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995 by Tracey Emin (1995) (via Wikimedia)

Tracey Emin, “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995” (1995) (via Wikimedia)

Tracey Emin has warmly given her love to New York in her Times Square installation “I Promise to Love You,” but while that is proudly romantic to the crowds on the streets, there’s still the chance that you might end up part of her art if you get involved with Emin. Her “Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963–1995” had all her lovers names quilted onto the wall of a tent, and her 1998 “My Bed” had some not very discrete stains on its white sheets.

Stanford White

Stanford White (via National Parks Service)

Stanford White (via National Parks Service)

As an artist, Stanford White was a genius (he led the American Renaissance as part of the architectural firm McKim, Mead & White with designs for the Washington Square Arch, the New York Herald Building, and other 19th century Beaux-Arts structures), but as a gentleman, he was rather heinous. The (married) White notoriously had a home in the Tenderloin District of Manhattan that featured several floors, including one with a clothing-optional velvet swing, and was specially designed to seduce young chorus girls, such as 16-year-old Evelyn Nesbit. The apartment culminated with a room with a bed and ceiling of mirrors, and as Nesbit would go on to say, she “entered that room a virgin,” but didn’t come out as one. Years later, she would marry the unstable and severely jealous Harry Kendall Thaw, who, at one performance on top of the old Madison Square Garden (designed by White) during the finale song “I Could Love A Million Girls,” walked up to Stanford White and shot him three times in the head.

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...

8 replies on “Five Artists We Don’t Want to Be Our Valentine”

  1. Sorry to be a hater but I think technically – Rodin tried to keep
    Claudel out of the institutions, but her politically ambitious brother
    Paul Claudel was the one who signed the papers to put her away, fearing
    that her eccentric but not mad reputation would damage his own political
    gains; and he was right. Rodin was always her champion. I think you may
    be getting the popular legend a bit confused with the facts. For more
    on this read Frederick Grunfelds long-winded albeit interesting ‘Rodin: A
    Biography”. Here is a quote from the Wiki article on Paul Claudel regarding his controversial career
    “He also committed his sister Camille Claudel
    to a hospital in March 1913, where she remained for the last 30 years
    of her life. Records show that while she did have mental lapses, she was
    clear-headed while working on her art… Doctors tried to
    convince the family that she need not be in the institution, but still
    they kept her there.”

    1. I definitely did not mean to imply that Rodin himself got her committed, and I agree that she was probably institutionalized way longer than her breakdown required. That’s fascinating about the brother, I will have to find that biography! I do think that him refusing to leave his other lover contributed to her downfall, even if he might have supported her otherwise, that would be a lot to deal with. The Musée Rodin has an interesting biography on her:

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