During the early days of the Modern Era, the classic female muse was a stereotypical image of a woman who inspired the artistic genius of male artists more on the basis of their physical appearance than anything else. But as time progressed, the later part of the Modern Period witnessed her metamorphosis into something more just a glorified female form. The so called “deity” of inspiration was no longer privy to the male artist’s gaze just for her superficial beauty.
In continuation with last week, today’s post will explore some of these emancipated women who changed the male artist’s perspective towards the female muse and redefined her identity.
Kiki de Montparnasse (1901–1953)
Born Alice Prin in France, Kiki de Montparnasse was a nightclub singer, painter, actress, and model. She posed for dozens of artists including Jean Cocteau, Moïse Kisling and Alexander Calder and inspired several others including Julien Mandel, Gustaw Gwozdecki, and Tsuguharu Foujita.
However, there is no doubt that she was Man Ray’s muse. Le violon d’Ingres, in which she is pictured from behind, with two violin f-holes painted on her back and Noire et Blanche are two of the most recognized works of Kiki by Man Ray.
Her look was legendary: a sharply cropped black bob with straight, thick fringe, pale white skin, dark red lips and severely painted eyebrows. This iconic helmet-like hairstyle would be seen in works of art including paintings, photographs and Pablo Gargallo’s 1928 bronze Kiki de Montparnasse.
Marie-Therese Walter (1909-1977)
Marie-Thérèse Walter was the lover and model of Pablo Picasso. Some famous pieces depicting this French muse are Le Rêve and Nude, Green Leaves & Bust. Their relation fell apart after Picasso started seeing Dora Marr. While Picasso found another mistress, Marie-Thérèse never stopped loving him, and it’s believed he never stopped loving her — there is an abstract sculpture of her on his grave.
Dora Marr (1907-1997)
This dark-haired beauty was the muse of Pablo Picasso during the 1930s and ’40s. She has inspired several of his most famous paintings, including Guernica (1937) and The Weeping Woman (1937). Marr, a photographer, was the only person allowed to capture the successive stages of Guernica as Picasso painted it. She is also said to have worked on elements of the painting. This brilliant intellectual was also a talented painter herself.
Monique Bourgeois (1921-2005)
In 1941, when Matisse was recovering from treatment for cancer, Monique Bourgeois took the job of nursing him, and doubled as his model. In 1943, after they had been separated by the fortunes of war, Bourgeois entered a convent. She didn’t meet Matisse again until 1946, when she came to see him to ask him to design and execute the Chapelle du Rosaire, his last and greatest complete work.
Gala Diakonova (1894-1982)
Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, otherwise known as Gala Diakonova, was a muse for her first husband Paul Éluard, Max Ernst and André Breton and finally for Salvador Dalí, also her husband. Gala posed for Dalí in works such as Portrait of Galarina, Leda Atomica, and Galatea of the Spheres. Gala appears in several other Dalí paintings and sculptures, notably The Madonna of Port Lligat (1949), Imperial Monument to the Child-Woman, Gala (1934) and The Discovery of America by Christopher Columbus (1958–59).
Helga Testorf (born c.1933 or c.1939)
The muse of the American artist Andrew Wyeth was a German model Helga Testorf. For fifteen years, he worked on The Helga Pictures, a series of more than 240 drawings and paintings of the model. Helga was Wyeth’s neighbor, and the artist depicted her in various poses indoors and out of doors, nude and clothed. Interestingly, the sessions were a secret even to their spouses, and the works were located at the home of Frolic Weymouth who was his student, neighbor, and a good friend.
Edie Sedgwick (1943-1971)
The iconic 1960s figure Edie Sedgwick starred in several of Andy Warhol’s underground, experimental films such as Poor Little Rich Girl and Kitchen. Sedgwick was a fixture around Warhol’s iconic Factory, and stars in two screen tests and several films, including Beauty No. 2, Ciao! Manhattan and of course Poor Little Rich Girl. Warhol also painted Sedgwick multiple times. Sedgwick’s pedigree and iconic sense of style, which included a cropped haircut, dangling earrings, fur coats, and occasionally, no pants, enthralled the rather shy Pop artist.
Ada Del Moro Katz (born 1928)
Ada Del Moro is the wife of painter Alex Katz, who has depicted her classic, dark-haired beauty in over 40 figurative works including The Black Dress (1960), Ada With Bathing Cap (1965), and The red scarf (Ada in polo coat) (1976). Katz’s portraits of his wife tend to show her stylishly dressed and radiating positivity.
Ilona Staller (born 1951)
Ilona Staller, also known as Cicciolina, married Jeff Koons in 1991. He was inspired by the porn star and Italian politician to create the sexually-explicit “Made in Heaven” series, which featured both photographs and sculptures of the couple engaged in various stages of lovemaking.
Not all muses are lovers. For Mickalene Thomas, her greatest inspiration has been her mother, Sandra Bush. Thomas has portrayed Bush, a former model, in several of her characteristically exuberant collage paintings as a quintessential 1970s babe complete with a massive afro and rhinestone-encrusted get-ups. In the 2012 film Happy Birthday to a Beautiful Woman, Thomas shows a different side of Bush – an aging woman, ill with kidney disease, who narrates her own incredible life story through questions asked by Thomas, who remains off screen.
It is evident that with time the female muse was no longer just a young, beautiful woman, groomed by the male artist and displayed to the world as his “find” or “trophy.” In today’s day and age, the art world has debunked and abandoned the traditional ideas of a female muse and successfully obliterated the line between an artist and the muse. Now, one can be the other or even both for that matter.
The quest for inspiration is a continuing process that changes, evolves, and matures with the artists themselves. If a male artist draws inspiration from a woman, he needs to honor not only the artist-muse relationship, but also the personal identity and public image of the woman. No matter what age, color, shape or size, she is an integral part of an artist’s creative universe. After all, in today’s “selfie” and “Me Too” age, who’s stopping a creative genius in the female form from tapping into her own inner muse? She is very much capable of romanticizing herself and does not need a man to do so.
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