5 Ferocious Art World Rivalries

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus  | 
Sir Anish Kapoor with Ishi's Light 2003 art piece
Sir Anish Kapoor stands with his piece "Ishi's Light 2003" at the Tate Modern gallery to mark World Refugee Day on June 20, 2019, in London, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images

British-Indian artist and sculptor Anish Kapoor had been famous for over 30 years when he bought exclusive rights to use a color called Vantablack as an art material. Vantablack at the time (2016) was the blackest pigment out there, absorbing 99.965 percent of visible light. This maneuver meant no other artist could use it, causing outrage among painters. In retaliation, another British artist named Stuart Semple created a pink paint called Pinkest Pink and put it for sale on his website. He also listed a disclaimer:

"By adding this product to your cart you confirm that you are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor. To the best of your knowledge, information and belief this paint will not make its way into the hands of Anish Kapoor."


Sales flooded in and artists who used the pink paint posted pictures on social media of their work with the hashtag #sharetheblack. As revenge, Kapoor had a representative buy the color and shared an Instagram picture of himself giving a pink-coated finger to the camera. He also said he would be suing Semple, though it doesn't seem as if a lawsuit was ever filed. At the same time, Semple made his own version of blackest-black paint with help from other artists, which anyone could purchase (except one person).

This somewhat petty feud is just one of many in the art world, where fierce rivalries can develop between artists. Here are five of them.


1. Caravaggio Versus Giovanni Baglione

Some consider Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, often simply called Caravaggio, one of the most revolutionary artists of his time. The artist, who painted in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, had a major influence on the Baroque style, with some dubbing him its founder. He was also a rabble-rouser with an extensive police record. He even murdered a man.

One of Caravaggio's contemporaries, Giovanni Baglione, also painted in the Baroque style, winning numerous commissions. The two men soon developed a contentious relationship. In 1603, after one of Baglione's altarpieces didn't wow its audience, Caravaggio gleefully disparaged Baglione's work via crude, satirical poems that he distributed in the artists' quarter. Baglione then sued him for slander, and Caravaggio spent two weeks in jail.


2. Vincent Van Gogh Versus Paul Gauguin

Vincent van Gogh Painting Sunflowers
"Painter of Sunflowers" is an 1888 portrait of Vincent van Gogh by Paul Gaugin. It now hangs in the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. VCG Wilson/Corbis via Getty Images

Many people know 19th-century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh cut off his ear, but few know the back story. Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were two post-Impressionist artists whose work incorporated a wealth of color. The two painters shared quarters in southern France at the famous Yellow House, where van Gogh was trying to create an artists' commune. Initially, the men were close, enjoying a friendly rivalry that was beneficial to both. But van Gogh had mental health struggles, while the strong-willed Gauguin led a turbulent life. Eventually, they began to clash.

After the two argued in December 1888, Gauguin told police he left the house to take a walk when van Gogh rushed at him with an open razor, but then took off running home. Gauguin decided to spend the night in a nearby hotel. In anguish, van Gogh cut off part of his left ear with a razor, giving a slice to a prostitute he frequented. Gauguin returned in the morning and saw van Gogh with his head covered in blood, confused. Van Gogh was taken to a hospital and then to an insane asylum.


In 2009, two German art historians said it's possible that Van Gogh made a move to attack Gauguin (an excellent fencer), who accidentally cut Van Gogh's ear with the sword he was using to defend himself. Either way, after the incident, Gauguin left southern France and the two apparently never saw one another again.

Pablo Picasso Versus Henri Matisse

Picasso and Matisse paintings
Two gallery technicians pose with Picasso's "Femme au Chignon Dans un Fauteuill" (C), 1948, and Matisse's "Anemones et Gremones" (R), 1946, plus two Academy Award statuettes, all part of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn's personal collection at auction at Sotheby's in London, 2015. Mary Turner/Getty Images for Sotheby's

Not all artistic rivalries result in harsh words or bloodshed. Spain's Pablo Picasso and France's Henri Matisse had a rivalry that was fierce, but the men generally treated one another with respect. The two Modernists initially disliked one another's work, but eventually admired each other's talent — plus the fact that the other's artwork positively challenged and inspired their own. In fact, Picasso once said that if he wasn't creating the paintings he was making, he'd paint like Matisse.

Unlike other artistic rivals, the two remained friends throughout their lives. In fact, some say their rivalry was blown out of proportion as a PR stunt by the avant-garde poet Apollinaire. In 1918, Apollinaire wrote about an upcoming Matisse/Picasso show at art dealer Paul Guillaume's gallery, billing it as a clash of the titans. But the artists apparently did not see it that way.


4. Edgar Degas Versus Édouard Manet

Degas' painting of Edouard Manet  and his wife Suzanne
Degas' painting of Édouard Manet and his wife Suzanne, which was never restored after Manet slashed it, now hangs in the collection of the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art in Japan. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Edgar Degas was a French painter, sculptor and printmaker whose heyday was in the mid- to late-1800s. He's well-known for his Impressionist works and his fondness for ballet dancers. Édouard Manet was Degas' contemporary. While he claimed not to be an Impressionist, his paintings were clearly influenced by the works of his Impressionist friends, including Degas.

The two artists were friends for quite some time until a painting came between them. Degas painted a portrait of Manet and his wife, Suzanne, as a gift, and Manet gave him a still life of plums he had painted in return. But after dropping in to Manet's studio one day, Degas saw his portrait had been marred by a huge gash through Suzanne's face. No one knows for sure why Degas' portrait of the couple was ruined. Perhaps Manet disliked Degas' portrayal of his wife. Degas took the painting back home to fix it, but never got around to it. He also returned the still life to Manet that had been hanging on his wall.


Eventually, the two men did reconcile. "How could you expect anyone to stay on bad terms with Manet?" Degas told his art dealer. "Only he had already sold 'Plums.' What a beautiful canvas it was!"

5. Banksy Versus King Robbo

King Robbo street art
This street art memorial to King Robbo in the Brick Lane area of Shoreditch, East London, is not the one that Banksy "altered" either in tribute or as a diss after King Robbo died. Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images Images

One modern-day rivalry was the feud between the anonymous Banksy and King Robbo, both U.K. street artists. Their hostility began in the 1990s, when the two met in a London bar. King Robbo felt Banksy dissed him, so he allegedly slapped Banksy. That led Banksy to seek out a 1985 graffiti work of King Robbo's near London's Regent's Canal, which he creatively covered up by drawing a worker pasting wallpaper over it. King Robbo, in turn, changed Banksy's artwork so that the worker appeared to be spraying the words "King Robbo" on the piece.

The two continued altering each other's work on this particular painting, plus others. Their rivalry may have continued for years, but King Robbo suffered a severe head injury in 2011, which led to his death three years later. Afterward, a mural was created in his honor — which Banksy once again tweaked. He said his alteration was a tribute to King Robbo, and a way of showing their conflict was over. But King Robbo's friends didn't view it that way, and restored their tribute to its original form.