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All Your Favorite Writers and Artists Were Constantly Fucking

I might be hanging out with the wrong people, but it seems like artists of the past were much sexier. Maybe it’s because so many of them congregated in Paris, a city that retains its romantic allure long after others (New York, Berlin) usurped its place as hangouts for the world’s writers and painters and photographers. Maybe it’s because the old system of wealthy benefactors allowed for more freedom than today’s toxic combination of late capitalism and viral social media. Or maybe it’s because the effect of history is to draw out drama at the expense of vast examples of mundanity, and the “creatives” of today will appear to have lived just as exciting lives as Simone de Beauvoir or Orson Welles. Whatever the reason, the biographies of 20th-century artists—the letters, the beguiling muses, the more or less agreed-upon non-monogamous trysts—challenge even the most cynical to resist the glamour of sepia-toned gossip. 

The Art of the Affair: An Illustrated History of Love, Sex, and Artistic Influence, a new short book written by novelist Catherine Lacey and illustrated by artist Forsyth Harmon, encourages the impulse toward this nostalgia. In it, Lacey and Harmon compile “an illustrated history of love, sex, and artistic influence” into neat snippets about the connections shared among a smattering of 20th-century artists, writers, musicians, and the like. There are the usual suspects—Picasso, Hemingway, Frida Kahlo, Anaïs Nin, Henry Miller—as well as lesser-known figures like Romaine Brooks, Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, and Beauford Delaney, all of whom Lacey says she only discovered while researching the book. (Notably absent are the Bloomsbury Group and Virginia Woolf, whose love letters with Vita Sackville-West are just as much fodder for wistful literary history blog posts as the stories of Miller and Nin or de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.)  …

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