Examining the Muse

Who are those people – repeated, disassembled, studied over and over again, taken apart and put back together, sometimes appearing in portraits, sometimes appearing only as a limb or a torso. Who are those muses that seem, in some artists’ career, to be more an obsession than just a subject?

Below is a glimpse into the relationships between six modern artists and their lovers, and the impact they had on their lives.

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Diego on My Mind (Self Portrait as Tehuana), 1943 (oil on canvas)

The “Frida and Diego” relationship is notorious, and though Kahlo is remembered largely for her self-portraits, Diego’s face has cropped up often.

Frida’s fascination with her husband seemed not so much a fascination with Rivera himself, but with his effect on her, so much so that many of her portraits included her placing Diego’s face on her forehead, (in her mind) or on her breast, (in her heart).


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Salvador Dali and Gala

Leda Atomica, 1949 (oil on canvas)

Salvador Dali’s wife, whose real name is Elena Ivanovna Diakonova, was nicknamed Gala by the artist for its endearing association to olives. After meeting Dali in 1929 her biography became permanently fused with her husband’s.

The artist, convinced Gala was the antidote for his mental turmoil, often used her as a subject in his work and typically depicted her with a sense of power, presiding over the canvas. After Gala’s death, Dali ceased to paint with women models, maintaining loyalty to his muse.


Rene Magritte & Georgette Berger

Georgette Magritte, 1934 (oil on canvas)

The early years of Rene Margritte’s and Georgette’s marriage were happy and she spent many hours posing (typically nude) for her new husband who previously had little interest in using live models.

Rene, generally a private and introverted person, was coaxed into social situations by his wife, which ultimately earned him great commercial success as a painter. But in the rocky stages of their marriage, Rene suffered both in social spheres and in his studio.


Amedeo Modigliani & Jeanne Hebuterne

Hebuterne, 1918 (oil on canvas)

Amadeo & Jeanne met in art school in 1916, during Jeanne’s first year there. After a brief courtship and hurried marriage, Jeanne modeled exclusively for her husband.

Their poverty stricken life was spent mostly in Amadeo’s tiny studio. In those two years, the bulk of Modigliani’s now renowned works were born. Modigliani died young, at thirty-five, a result of severe alcoholism and meningitis. Jeanne, unable to overcome her grief, committed suicide the very next day- she did not live to see her twenty second birthday.


Tamara de Limpicka & Suzy Solidor

Portrait of Suzy Solidor, 1933 (oil on canvas)

The Art Deco queen was one of the few successful women artists in the roaring twenties who openly declared herself a bisexual. Many of Tamara’s lovers, women working in Paris’s club and cabarets posed for her in the studio.

Among them was Suzy Solidor, whose success as a singer and actress rivaled the painter’s. Suzy was referred to by artist friends as, “the most painted woman in all of Paris”. At that time, she had already sat for Picasso, Braque, and Dufy, but it was Limpicka’s portraits of Salidor that stood out in her collection, and Salidor remains the only subject (short of Limpicka’s late husband), who had made it onto Tamara’s canvases several times.

Francis Bacon & George Dyer

Portrait of George Dyer Talking, 1966 (oil on canvas)

The popular myth is that Bacon met Dyer in 1964 when the young man, twenty years Bacon’s junior, was burglarizing his apartment. In reality, they probably met at a bar. Like the painter, Dyer was a long-time alcoholic and his brooding state soon turned unbearable for both the painter and his lover. By 1970, Dyer stayed away from Bacon and his social circle, making appearances only to pose and ask for drinking money.

In 1971, Dyer committed suicide, and the death brought on a grieving process that is remembered now as Bacon’s most celebrated series: The Black Triptychs. Though the artist typically denied conversations about his inspiration, the triptychs, he confirmed in an interview, were born of Dyer’s death.

If this article enticed you to do some personal research, check out: Lover: Portrait by 40 Great Painters by Juliet Heslewood here. The book covers many artists spanning several movements and offers rich, historical information about their lovers and muses.

Written By: Darina Sikmashvili

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