1. Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Lizzie Siddal – the student
Lizzie Siddal was a milliner when she was spotted by William Deverell and became a model to many of the Pre-Raphaelites. By 1951, though, she was only modelling for one of the brotherhood – Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He drew and painted her obsessively featuring her in such paintings as ‘Dante’s Vision of Rachel and Leah’ and ‘The Return of Tibullus to Delia’ and creating numerous beautiful pencil studies of her. They became engaged and withdrew from the rest of the group, totally absorbed in each other and their art with Siddal becoming a willing student and producing numerous sketches of her own. Rossetti encouraged this and even secured her the patronage of John Ruskin who paid her £150 a year for all works she produced.
Life seemed idyllic for the two love-struck artists, living and painting together and fuelling each other’s creativity. Rossetti, however, seems to have viewed his muse as someone to be loved and idealized from afar and had a real problem treating her as a flesh and blood woman. He put off their marriage again and again prompting Siddal to write many dark poems about the impossibility of true love and, it is speculated, using her ill health as leverage to keep him with her. By 1860, Lizzie had been ill many times and had become heavily dependent on Laudanum. Thinking that she was dying, her family summoned Rossetti who rushed to her side and finally did what she had desperately hoped for 9 years – he married her. But the Laudanum had already taken hold and two years later, she died of an overdose.
The ‘Beata Betrix’, pictured, is Rossetti’s final tribute to her painted after her death.
2. Andrew Wyeth and Helga Testorf – the critic
Helga Testorf inspired Andrew Wyeth to produce a series of works that got the critics raving – when they were eventually able to view them!
Over a period of 15 years from 1971 to 1986, Wyeth painted and sketched his neighbour over 200 times but all of them were posed for in secret and the finished artwork stored at the home of Wyeth’s student and friend, Frolic Weymouth, with no one else seeing or even knowing about them. Not even the spouses of the Artist or the model.When the work was finally made public, it caused a sensation. Not because the artwork shocked but because of the secrecy surrounding its creation and the speculation about a possible affair. Both denied any physical relationship but, in subsequent interviews, they do talk of love – a love of the subject, a need to feed the soul, of a creative collaboration between two like-minded people to produce beautiful artwork.
Wyeth said, “The difference between me and a lot of painters is that I have to have a personal contact with my models. … I have to become enamoured. Smitten. That’s what happened when I saw Helga.” The love for his subject was certainly intense but it seems it was an obsession that didn’t need to be shared with anyone else and was just for the Artist and his muse.
3. Amedeo Modigliani and Jeanne Hébuterne – the painter
Modigliani can be seen as the epitomy of the tragic artist with an unstoppable self-destructive personality that ultimately led to the destruction of his muse as well as himself.
In the spring of 1917, a beautiful 19 year old Art Student named Jeanne Hébuterne was introduced to Modigliani, a 33 year old Artist who, despite his alcoholism and habitual drug use, was preparing for his first – and only – one-man show in Paris – a show that was closed on the same day due to the outrage that his nudes provoked. Soon the two artists were living together and Jeanne became one of the main subjects of his paintings.
A move to the South of France was arranged by Modigliani’s agent to escape from the war and to get his work seen by the rich collectors who wintered there and a very productive year followed with both of them painting and Modigliani creating some of his best and, later, most sought after pieces. Jeanne also gave birth to their daughter.
They returned to Paris in 1919 and, with Jeanne pregnant again, Modigliani proposed and officially recognised Jeanne, their first child, as his. The marriage was never to take place though. The protestations of Hébuterne’s family to her marriage to this debauched, drunken drug addict became superfluous with the discovery that Modigliani was dying from Tubercular Meningitis. The day after he died in January 1920, the distraught Hébuterne threw herself from a 5th floor window, killing herself and their unborn child.
4. Salvador Dali and Gala Diakonova – the agent
Salvador Dali literally put Gala on a pedestal in many of his paintings placing her in the roles of the Madonna, Venus and Helen amongst other celebrated women. She was of such an inspiration, aide, adviser and fascination to him that, in the early 1930s, he began signing his work with both his and her name stating that “it is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures”.
Dali was only 25 – Gala 10 years older and married – when they met and started their 50 year relationship. A relationship that saw initial disapproval from Dali’s family, many infidelities and, latterly, a detrimental effect on Dali’s health due to his fear of being abandoned by his muse but also saw the creation of many wonderful works of art such as ‘The Madonna of Port Lligat’ and ‘Leda Atomica’.
For all of Dali’s showmanship, it was Gala who worked incessantly in the early days of his career to get his work seen and to secure wealthy patrons. Her tenacity was legendary, even to the point of getting a fierce reputation and being branded a destructive influence by other artists. The relationship between them has been described as tense, complex and ambiguous but with Dali’s artistic talent and Gala’s determination to see him succeed, they certainly had a creative one.
5. Edouard Manet and Victorine Meurent – the poster girl
Victorine Meurent is argued by some to be the most inspirational muse of them all because she was the subject of paintings that shook the art world into a completely new trajectory. Manet declared that ‘You must be of your time and paint what you see’, and his 1862 painting ‘Street Singer’ put his brush where his mouth was!
This, the first of nine paintings featuring Meurent, heralded a departure from images of saints, heroes, biblical figures and mythical characters towards depictions of Parisian life full of the everyday people – artisans, street entertainers and prostitutes. To Manet, Meurent’s interesting yet unremarkably normal look embodied real life. In the painting, she is not the elegant socialite painted a thousand times before. She is short, slightly stocky young woman, dressed in clothes that may have seen better days and eating in public suggesting a somewhat unrefined character.
The second of Manet’s paintings of her was, again, a shake up to the art world. Not a conventional beauty, Meurent’s quite normal features are given the commissioned portrait treatment with all the care and attention that a conventional painter may have lavished on a more ‘worthy’ subject and, what is more, the sitter is named. No longer is she just an anonymous street entertainer and artist’s model, she is Victorine Meurent.
And then there is ‘Olympia’, pictured above. The composition and size of the painting are very traditional and nod to the classical depictions of Venus but the orchid in her hair, the oriental shawl, the opulent earrings, bracelet and even the title blatantly say that this modern goddess is a prostitute. Together with the ‘unclassical’ proportions of the model, the way that there is no shame in her eyes as she stares back at the viewer and the voluptuous atmosphere were all too modern for the shocked audience but sparked a new approach and inspired many generations of painters.
Although she helped to inspire some of the most iconic paintings of the 20th Century, there is little known about Meurent but it has been established that she was born in 1844 and lived until the ripe old age of 83, spending much of her life making a living as a painter in her own right.
6. Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel – the Sculptress
Camille Claudel was not going to let the École des Beaux-Art’s ban on female students stop her from studying sculpture and, instead, she set up her own workshop with a number of other female sculptors under the instruction of Alfred Boucher. When this mentor decided to move to Florence three years later, he asked Auguste Rodin to take over the role and Rodin and Claudel’s tumultuous relationship started.
Claudel, herself, was an accomplished Sculptor producing works such as the ‘Bronze Waltz’ whilst with Rodin and going on to have a short period of commercial success after their painful separation. Because of her affinity with the medium, they were able to influence each other artistically and Claudel assisted in the making of as well as being the inspiration for many of his sculptures. Studies of works attributed to Rodin not only suggest that his abandonment of traditional sculptural techniques and subject matter could have been influenced by Claudel’s daring ideas but that some of the unsigned pieces were, in fact, created between them.
The role of model, collaborator, confidante and inspiration soon turned into a passionate affair increasingly marred by Rodin’s reluctance to end his 20-year relationship with his lover and mother of his child, Rose Beuret, and Claudel’s increasing belief that Rodin was plotting against her and stealing her ideas.The combined strain of not being able to be with Rodin – especially after an abortion in 1892, dealing with her mother and brother’s disapproval – not only of the relationship – but of any involvement in the Arts she had at all and the fact that her work was looked down upon because she was a woman sculpting what society believed was indecent for a woman to know all began to build. In 1898, finally realising that Rodin was not going to leave Beuret, she cut all ties to him but she could not move forward. In 1905, she appeared to have a nervous breakdown and, at the instigation of her brother, was committed to a psychiatric hospital where she died 30 years later.
7. Rembrandt and Hendrickje Stoffels – the PA
Is this or is this not Hendrickje Stoffels? It appears that the jury is still out. None of the portraits thought to be Stoffels ever carried her name so cause for doubt has emerged. However, during the period that Stoffels lived with him, Rembrandt produced around 12 paintings featuring the same attractive woman and all are painted with a degree of affection, intimacy and careful observation that would suggest a close relationship between the artist and model. Because of this her name has been readily given to many of these portraits without us actually knowing for sure who the sitter is.
It was as a companion and business woman, though, that Stoffels really made her mark on Rembrandt’s art. She came to his household as a maid in around 1647, soon becoming his lover and common-law wife.Stoffels was dedicated to Rembrandt despite having to appear before the Church Council to admit her sin, having to accept that Rembrandt would not marry her because of a clause in his first wife’s will and having to deal with Rembrandt’s bankruptcy. It was in 1658 that he became bankrupt, losing his house and being forced to sell his paintings for a pitiful amount to avoid imprisonment. Rather than accept the situation, Stoffels stepped up to the mark and is, very possibly, the reason we can now enjoy Rembrandt’s paintings.
She and his son opened a shop to sell Rembrandt’s paintings and officially became his employer, organising his affairs and preventing his complete downfall into obscurity. It was during this period that there was a noticeable increase in Rembrandt’s output, which included such works as ‘The Syndics of the Clothmaker’s Guild’, ‘The return of the prodigal son’ and ‘Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan’ – paintings that, perhaps, may never have been commissioned had it not been for Hendrickje Stoffels.
8. Man Ray and Lee Miller – the Photographer
Lee Miller was probably going to be a successful photographer without anyone’s instruction but, in 1929, she travelled to Paris with the intention of apprenticing herself to the surrealist artist and photographer Man Ray. Despite his insistence that he did not want a student, Miller soon became his pupil, model, collaborator, lover and muse and inspired many of his most famous images. Not only that but she was the instigator in the use of many of the photographic effects that became Man Ray’s trademarks. By 1930, it was difficult to tell their work apart.
Ray obsessively photographed the physically perfect ex-model creating such iconic photographs as ‘La Priére (the Prayer) and we know, through his letters, that he loved her deeply – almost to the point of madness – but there was also more than just a tinge of resentment and jealousy of her abilities as a photographer. It came to a head when, on finding that Miller had cropped and re-imagined one of his discarded photographs as her own, he took the photo, cut off the head and splashed it with red ink. A devastating break up followed in 1932 which, itself, inspired more of Ray’s iconic work such as the ‘indestructible Object’. Although they went their separate ways, they did reconcile in 1937 and remained very close for the remainder of their lives.