8 Famous Artists Who Turned Heartbreak into Art

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Auguste Rodin couldn’t bear it when an argument temporarily ruptured his romantic relationship with fellow sculptor Camille Claudel. “In a single instant I feel your terrible force,” he wrote to her in a passionate 1883 letter. “Atrocious madness, it’s the end. I won’t be able to work anymore…yet I love you furiously.”

But Rodin did work throughout their volatile romance, creating some of his most desperately passionate sculptures, including both The Kiss (1882) and The Eternal Idol (1890–93).

Like Rodin, countless artists throughout history have channeled feelings of heartbreak into their work. The resulting pieces run the gamut from impassioned and cathartic to deeply mournful. Below, we explore how artists from Edvard Munch to Frida Kahlo to Felix Gonzalez-Torres have responded to the agony and upheaval that follows losing a lover.

Frida Kahlo Little Deer (1946)

“I suffered two grave accidents in my life: one in which a streetcar knocked me down.…The other accident is Diego,” Frida Kahlo said in a 1951 interview. Kahlo was referring, of course, to her husband and fellow artist Diego Rivera, with whom she had a deeply volatile relationship. Their marriage toggled between passionate highs and bitter lows; the latter were often inspired by Rivera’s insistent cheating, and infidelity on Kahlo’s part, as well.

Nearly 10 years after they married, Rivera began an affair with his wife’s sister, an indiscretion Kahlo couldn’t tolerate. The two artists temporarily divorced in 1939, a year when Kahlo also painted The Two Fridas, a direct response to the split. The masterful canvas presents two self-portraits: the Kahlo loved by Rivera, and the Kahlo dismissed by him. One figure, which holds a small pendant depicting Rivera, boasts a heart that is intact and full. The other holds a pair of scissors dripping with blood; a hole in her chest reveals only the remnants of a maimed heart. Other later works, like Little Deer (1946), might also refer to the pain inflicted by the relationship, as well as Kahlo’s immense physical suffering from the numerous surgeries she underwent during her life.

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