Though talent is something that belongs solely to each individual artist, inspiration can come from many different places. Behind most famous artists is a muse who inspires new passion and better work. A muse is more often than not the artist’s lover, who becomes a source of artistic inspiration and the subject of their creative process and works of art. Without the following muses, the world would have missed out on some of the most influential and beloved pieces of art ever made – and on some of the most colourful love stories…

20 Famous muses everyone should know

1. Elizabeth Siddal

Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddal, an artist herself, inspired many famous artists from the Pre-Raphaelites era, among whom were John Everett Millais, Walter Deverell, and William Holman Hunt. Lizzie posed for Millais’ famous Ophelia, for which she floated in a bathtub full of water during their sessions. But perhaps the artist most inspired by Lizzie was her husband Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She met Rossetti in 1849, started modeling for him, and soon enough he was mostly painting her, and stopped her from modeling for other Pre-Raphaelites. A year after her death, in 1863, Rossetti painted Lizzie as a praying Beatrice in Beata Beatrix.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix. Muse definition
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Beata Beatrix, 1863

2. Victorine Meurent

The story goes that famous artist Édouard Manet saw Victorine making her way through the bustling streets, and became inspired to start painting in a completely new fashion, breaking away from previous traditional styles. Victorine modeled for two of Manet’s most controversial and influential paintings: Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe and Olympia. In both paintings, she is depicted completely nude, in a very nonchalant manner, which was quite scandalous for that time. Victorine also modeled for famous artists Edgar Degas and Alfred Stevens, and was an artist herself. It appears that Victorine did not have a love affair with Manet, but with Stevens.

Édouard Manet, Olympia. Muse definition
Édouard Manet, Olympia, 1865

3. Camille Claudel

Yet another artist’s muse who was also a famous artist herself, Camille Claudel was an extremely talented sculptor. She was also Auguste Rodin’s assistant, lover, and muse, and he in turn inspired many of her sculptures. Their love affair was tumultuous, with Claudel being extremely independent but also deeply hurt that Rodin would not leave his long-term partner, Rose Beuret, for her. She spent the last 30 years in a mental institution, and tragically destroyed most of her phenomenal work. According to experts, Claudel was an important influence on Rodin’s artistic growth and experimentation, and the change in his work after he met her is undeniable.

Camille Claudel in 1884. Muse definition
Camille Claudel in 1884 (aged 19)

4. Emilie Louise Flöge

One of the most prominent members of the Vienna Art Nouveau Gustav Klimt and Emilie Flöge were life-long partners until Klimt’s death. She was a fashion designer who was widely misunderstood because she was far ahead of her time; Klimt, however, understood her work like no other. Flöge often appears in his art, as do her groundbreaking designs (these are the iconic dresses we know so well from Klimt’s paintings). It is speculated that Flöge and Klimt are the ones portrayed in his most famous work of art, The Kiss. Though it is unclear whether they were also lovers, or simply best friends and companions, their deep connection speaks for itself and contributed to the work of the famous artist.

Gustav Klimt, Detail of Portrait of Emilie Louise Flöge. Muse definition
Gustav Klimt, Detail of Portrait of Emilie Louise Flöge, 1902

5. Kiki de Montparnasse

Kiki de Montparnasse was a cabaret singer, memoirist, and painter, but is best known for being the model and muse to many famous artists of Surrealism from the 1920’s. Man Ray in particular was immensely inspired by her, and they were lovers and companions for most of the ‘20s, during which period he created countless works inspired by and featuring Kiki. His most famous works of her are Le Violin d’Ingres and Noire et Blanche.

Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924. Muse definition
Man Ray, Le Violon d’Ingres, 1924

6. Dora Maar

Dora Maar was the muse and lover of Picasso, one of the world’s most famous artists, during the ‘30s and ‘40s. Maar was a photographer, and inspired many of Picasso’s famous cubist paintings, among which are Portrait of Dora Maar, Weeping Woman, and Woman Dressing Her Hair. She was also the only person who was allowed to capture the various stages of Guernica while Picasso was working on it. When their relationship became strained, and Picasso met a younger woman, Maar suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time in a psychiatric hospital. Following her relationship with the famous artist, Maar turned to Roman Catholicism, saying: “After Picasso, only God.”

Pablo Picasso, Weeping Woman, 1937. Courtesy of Tate

7. Gala Diakonova

Gala Diakonova enraptured many of the great surrealists of the 20th century. She was initially the wife of surrealist poet Paul Éluard, then the lover of Max Ernst, until she captured the heart of Salvador Dalí, who was ten years younger than her. Gala and Dalí married, and not only did she inspire countless of his works, but she also acted as his manager. Dalí often painted Gala as an erotic goddess, and continued to do so as she got older.

Salvador Dalí, Leda Atomica, 1949

8. Edie Sedgwick

“Poor little rich girl” Edie Sedgwick was a socialite who moved to New York to pursue modeling. She was soon introduced to Pop Art artist Andy Warhol and his Factory, and Warhol became enchanted with her iconic style and her vibrant personality. Warhol had her star in several of his screen tests and films, including Beauty No.2, Ciao! Manhattan, and Poor Little Rich Girl. Their close codependent relationship ended badly, with Warhol pushing her out of her circles, and Sedgwick getting more and more lost in drug abuse, finally overdosing at the age of 28.

Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick c. 1965 – Photo: Steve Schapiro

9. George Dyer

George Dyer and Francis Bacon met in 1963, and began a tumultuous, deeply intense, and inspiring romance. Bacon painted many portraits of his muse and lover, and many claim these works are his most inspired ones. Two days before the opening of Bacon’s 1971 retrospective at the Grand Palais, Dyer committed suicide.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer, 1963

10. Patti Smith

Singer-songwriter Patti Smith and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, himself a famous artist, met in New York in the 1960’s. They became roommates, lovers, superstars, and each other’s muses. Smith features in several of Mapplethorpe’s famous photographs, and recently wrote a memoir documenting her fascinating relationship with Mapplethorpe.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Patti Smith, 1975. Courtesy of Tate Museum

11. Lee Miller

Lee Miller was a successful model in New York when she left for Paris in 1929. Shortly after, she met Man Ray in a bar near Ray’s studio in Montparnasse. In an interview with Home Journal in 1975, Miller recalls that she saw Man Ray and said: “My name is Lee Miller, and I’m your new student.” Man Ray replied: “I don’t have students.” When he told her he was leaving for Biarritz the next day, she said: “So am I.” This was the beginning of an intensive three-year relationship, both professionally and romantically. Miller moved into Ray’s studio and he taught her everything he knew about photography. She inspired many of Ray’s iconic photographs, and their partnership reached its peak in 1930, when they accidentally discovered solarisation, a technique which gave photographs a silvery aura. By the time they parted in 1932, Man Ray was almost driven to madness by the relationship, but years later, they met again and began a deep friendship that lasted until his death in 1976. Miller made a name for herself as a photographer, in particular as a war photographer for Vogue during World War II.

famous muses
Man Ray, Solarised Portrait of Lee Miller, c. 1929. Courtesy the Penrose Collection

12. La Cicciolina (Ilona Staller)

In 1988, Jeff Koons saw a picture of Ilona Staller (better know for her porn star name La Cicciolina) in German magazine Stern, and became obsessed with the idea of being photographed with her for his upcoming exhibition at the Whitney in NYC. Though Staller had no idea who he was, her manager convinced her to accept his request, and this led to the Made in Heaven series. A few years later, in 1991, the provocative artist and the boundary-breaking porn star/politician got married. La Cicciolina was Koons’ muse and his co-star, giving shape to some of his most famous works of art. By depicting himself and La Cicciolina engaged in explicit sexual acts, Koons mirrored people’s desires and sexuality right back at them. The couple has since separated, but their art remains a testament to a deeply inspiring and bold relationship.

famous muses
Jeff Koons, Ilona on Top (Rosa Background), 1990. Photo: Jeff Koons.

13. Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe was discovered by the then already famous photographer Alfred Stieglitz. The two met in 1916, and Stieglitz became her mentor and guide, exhibiting her work in his gallery. A few years later, O’Keeffe moved to New York, and the two artists got married in 1924. Though O’Keeffe is known today as one of the most important American artists of her time, she also had a significant influence on Stieglitz’s art. As his muse, he photographed her over the course of 20 years, producing over 300 pictures of her.

Georgia O’Keeffe After Return from New Mexico, 1929.
Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe–After Return from New Mexico, 1929 © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

14. Alba Clemente

Italian artist Francesco Clemente, who works and lives between New York and India, has said of his wife Alba: “In Hindu mythology, it is said that Shiva without Shakti is a corpse. I believe in the feminine nature of Energy. Alba has been the great equalizer of the uneven flow of my energy.” Alba has travelled the world with her husband, and features in many of his paintings, her striking features boldly expressing Clemente’s passionate style. Alba is often portrayed as Clemente’s soul mate or female double. She has also posed for the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and Alex Katz.

Francesco Clemente, Alba, 1997. Collection of Francesco and Alba Clemente, New York

15. Helga Testorf

In 1986, Andrew Wyeth announced that for the past 15 years, he had made 240 drawings and paintings of a woman named Helga. The paintings were extraordinary, erotic yet subtle. He had told no one about his work with his model, not even his wife. Helga Testorf was, for a time, the nurse of a farmer who lived near the Wyeths’ home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania. Neither Mrs. Testorf nor Mr. Wyeth said much to the public about the Helga Paintings or their work together as artist and model. Wyeth needs secrecy in his artistic practice. His wife, Betsy Wyeth, did talk about the paintings in several interviews, saying the Helga Paintings informed and inspired Wyeth’s other work. When asked about the possibility of a sexual relationship between Helga and her husband, she said she doubted they crossed over into that territory, since Wyeth would have lost the magic in the paintings.

famous muses helga
Andrew Wyeth on TIME magazine cover. August 18, 1986

16. Amanda Lepore

Trans icon Amanda Lepore was first approached by David LaChapelle in the late ‘90s in New York City, at a party that she was co-hosting. They instantly connected and the next day, LaChappelle called her to arrange a photo shoot with Lepore, who had never considered modelling. This shoot led to a long and fruitful artistic partnership between Lepore and LaChapelle. Lepore is one of LaChapelle’s favourite models and most important muses. Their work together fights against the morality of the mainstream, inspiring people to express themselves freely.

amanda lepore famous muses
David LaChapelle, Addicted to Diamonds, 1997

17. Marie-Thérèse Walter

Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso were lovers between 1927 and 1935. She was his favourite model during his surrealist period. In 1932 in particular, Picasso produced some of his most passionate paintings, with Marie-Thérèse at the centre. She was only 17 years old when they met in a Paris department store, and he asked her to model for him. Almost immediately, they started an intense love affair, which they had to keep well hidden from his jealous wife Olga and the outside world, as she was underage. In 1935, Marie-Thérèse and Picasso’s daughter Maya was born. Soon after, Picasso met Dora Maar, who became his principal mistress, though he continued to see Marie-Thérèse and his daughter. In 1955, when Picasso’s wife Olga died, he proposed to Marie-Thérèse. She said no. In 1977, just four years after Picasso’s death, Marie-Thérèse took her own life.

Pablo Picasso, Femme au béret et à la robe quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter), 1937. Photo: © Sotheby's

18. Saskia van Uylenburgh

Saskia van Uylenburgh was the wife of Rembrandt van Rijn. Her cousin, Hendrik van Uylenburgh, was a painter and art dealer whom Rembrandt met when he moved to Amsterdam. Rembrandt moved into Hendrik’s house, where he met Saskia. They got married in 1634, and stayed together until her death in 1642. Rembrandt frequently used Saskia as his model. Rumour has it that he painted her face on the golden girl in his famous Night Watch, to honour her memory after she passed away.

Saskia van Uylenburgh was the wife of Rembrandt van Rijn. Her cousin, Hendrik van Uylenburgh, was a painter and art dealer whom Rembrandt met when he moved to Amsterdam. Rembrandt moved into Hendrik’s house, where he met Saskia. They got married in 1634, and stayed together until her death in 1642. Rembrandt frequently used Saskia as his model. Rumour has it that he painted her face on the golden girl in his famous Night Watch, to honour her memory after she passed away.

Rembrandt, Portrait of Saskia with a Flower, 1641

19. Ada Del Moro Katz

Ada Del Moro Katz is the wife of painter Alex Katz, who has used her as his model in over 40 paintings. They met in 1957 in New York, at one of Katz’s shows. One year later, they got married. Katz has compared her to Dora Maar, one of Picasso’s lovers and muses. He also said she is a combination of both European and American beauty. Ada is portrayed as a classic, dark-haired beauty in his paintings, often radiating peacefulness and positivity.

Alex Katz, Ada on Blue, 1959

20. Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are arguably among the most fascinating and inspiring artist couples ever. Both extremely talented and successful, the two artists had a passionate and deeply complex relationship. Throughout their relationship, they served as each other’s muses and deeply influenced each other’s work. They can often be found depicted in each other’s work, like in the below painting Diego and I, from 1949.

Frida Kahlo, Diego and I, 1949

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