By Shira Wolfe

Artists seek inspiration from all kinds of different sources. Often, their inspiration comes from other people, people whose essence they try to capture in their art. Explore the world of artists and muses in this list of 10 influential artist muses, some of whom were artists themselves, and were in turn inspired by their relationship with the artist.

1. 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.

2. 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

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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 the 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were arguably one of 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 been found depicted in each other’s work, like in the above painting Diego and I, from 1949