Published in November 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
In 1868, Degas painted a husband-and-wife portrait of Édouard and Suzanne Manet, he reclining on a couch, she playing the piano. Degas gave the painting to his friend, only for Manet, inexplicably, to put a knife through it and excise the right-hand third—including half of Suzanne’s body and all of her instrument. On Degas’s death, 50 years later, the slashed painting would be found, prominently displayed, at his home. This is one of many anecdotes told in the highly readable new book by art critic Sebastian Smee, on four “friendly rivalries” that changed the course of modern art: Henri Matisse vs Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock vs Willem de Kooning, Francis Bacon vs Lucian Freud, and Édouard Manet vs Edgar Degas.