Since the first artist brushed paint on a canvas (or rather, pressed pigment to a cave wall), there has been the muse. Merriam-Webster defines a muse as “a source of inspiration” and while such a simple definition almost defies the complexity of the often tumultuous, passionate relationship between many artists and their muses, it’s an accurate depiction. We’ve compiled a list of the juiciest stories of artist and muse relationships in the history of art. Read on and see if it doesn’t inspire you to pick up a paintbrush — or strike a pose!
Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso
While history is unsure of the exact year that Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso met, we do know that Walter was about 30 years Picasso’s junior at the time, and the two would go on to maintain an affair in secret over the span of eight years, until Walter became pregnant and Picasso’s wife found out.
Things ended not long after that when Walter discovered that Picasso had also been seeing painter and photographer Dora Maar on the side. When asked to choose between the two of them, Picasso suggested instead that Walter and Maar “fight it out”–which they did, proceeding to physically wrestle for the artist’s affections. While things between the two may not have had a happy ending, Walter lives on in Picasso’s paintings (seen above in Le Rêve) as blonde and bright, whereas Picasso’s next mistress, Maar, would go on to be immortalized in several of his works as The Weeping Woman.
Leocadia Weiss and Francisco Goya
Little is known of Francisco Goya’s housekeeper and muse Leocadia Weiss, aside from the fact that she was 35 years Goya’s junior, was an outspoken liberal, and (according to letters she had written Goya) a bit of a spitfire. When Goya decided to leave Spain for France, Weiss and her daughter Rosario (who may actually have been Goya’s daughter) moved with him and stayed until his death.
Unfortunately, as is the case for many mistresses when their lovers die, Weiss was left with nothing after Goya’s passing. Destitute, she was forced to sell his painting The Milkmaid of Bordeaux (which is said to depict either Leocadia or Rosario) and auctioned off many other works the artist had given her during his lifetime.
Lady Caroline Blackwood and Lucian Freud
An actress, journalist, and award-winning novelist in her own right, Lady Caroline Blackwood had a string of marriages, moving from artist to composer to poet, and was described by the last of her husbands, Robert Lowell, as “a mermaid who dines upon the bones of her winded lovers”. During their marriage, Lady Blackwood posed for a number of Freud’s most celebrated works, including Girl In Bed, pictured above.
Elena Ivanova Diakonova (Gala Dalí) and Salvador Dalí
Gala Dalí was a great inspiration to numerous artists during her lifetime–her brief ménage à trois with Paul Éluard and Max Ernst is certainly proof of that–but her most well-known relationship is that of her marriage to Salvador Dalí. Gala features in many of Dalí’s works, depicted lovingly, affectionately, and sensually. During their marriage, Gala took part in multiple extramarital affairs, which Dalí was not only aware of, but in fact encouraged. Dalí loved Gala immensely and took to signing his paintings with both of their names and the phrase, “(i)t is mostly with your blood, Gala, that I paint my pictures”. The two remained together until Gala’s passing, which took a terrible toll on Dalí, who reportedly tried to take his own life in the wake of her death.
Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim and… many men
Socialite, bohemian, art collector–Peggy Guggenheim was a woman of many titles, not all of which painted her in the most flattering light. If her name sounds familiar, it might be because her uncle, Solomon R. Guggenheim, was the founder of the Guggenheim Museum in New York–or maybe because she, herself, amassed an awesome personal modern art collection and is credited with “discovering” Jackson Pollock.
During her time in Europe, Peggy was said to have “slept with 1,000 men”, and in her autobiography, she reveals a small number of these conquests–men like Roland Penrose, Yves Tanguy, and E. L. T. Mesens. She later had an affair with Samuel Beckett (who is credited with persuading Peggy to pursue modern art, exclusively) and married artist Max Ernst (though the two divorced not long after.
Peggy took advantage of the new, inexpensive modern art market, taking a chance on lesser-known artists and amassing a collection that today is valued in the billions. Of her success, Peggy once said, “I’ve always been considered the enfant terrible of the family. I guess they thought I was a bit of a black sheep, and would never do anything that was ever any good. I think I surprised them.”