A muse is defined as a person who provides creative inspiration for an artist. However, sometimes it can be the other way around. We shall look into the lives of three famous muses who were also known for their painting as well as acting as a muse for famous artists.
Elizabeth Siddal (Muse to Dante Gabriel Rossetti)
Elizabeth Siddal was encouraged by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, for whom she was a muse, to begin painting and writing. Gaining inspiration from a great master, she would also produce some Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood-type works that she would exhibit in 1857 and 1858.
Siddal had done well for herself, having emerged from a work-class background. It was while working for a milliner that she had her chance encounter with Rossetti, who she would become a muse to and marry.
With poor health and problems of jealousy through her affair and marriage to Rossetti, Siddal did not live beyond the age of 32. She suffered from a laudanum addiction and died of a drug overdose that she was suspected of having self-inflicted. The story does not end there because Rossetti would bury Siddal with the manuscripts of the majority of his pomes, to then exhume her body in 1869, seven years later, to retrieve them.
Paintings of Rosetti’s that Siddal is famous for appearing in include Ecce Ancilla Domini (1849-50), Regina Cordium (The Queen of Hearts) (1860), and Beata Beatrix (c. 1864-70).
Dora Maar (Muse to Pablo Picasso)
They do not come much more famous than Pablo Picasso, and Dora Maar was a muse to him. In this case, Maar was an artist before she met Picasso. She had studied painting and photography and had made a significant contribution in terms of the Surrealist movement. She is famed for her Portrait of Ubu (1936).
Maar would meet Picasso through her Surrealist peers and then go on to have a ten-year relationship with him in 1936. She would photograph Picasso while they worked on his painting Guernica (1937). Picasso not only drew Maar but she would collaborate with him on projects.
Paintings that Maar appears in of Picasso’s include Portrait of Dora Maar and Weeping Woman, which were both painted in 1937.
Another woman would eventually take Maar’s place, as is so often the case with muses, as relationships between artists and muses sour. Maar would then live as a recluse and find herself tormented by Picasso for the remainder of her life.
It has to be said that Maar’s associations with Picasso far exceed her reputation as an artist.
Françoise Gilot (Muse to Pablo Picasso)
To continue the Picasso story, it seems only right to talk about Françoise Gilot who met Pablo Picasso in 1943. There was a significant age difference between them as Picasso was 62 and Gilot just 21. Picasso still had connections with Dora Maar at this point. Like Maar, Gilot would also spend ten years with Picasso in a relationship, walking out on him in 1953.
Gilot was independent and would produce work as an artist in her own right while in her relationship with Picasso. She would then continue to paint for the rest of her life after breaking up with him. During their time together, Gilot would give birth to two children, who they had together.
Despite still being identified as a former lover of Picasso, Gilot would hold solo exhibitions of her work and make a name for herself in Europe and the United States. This is in contrast to Dora Maar, whose time with Picasso was considered much more to have provided her with fame than her artwork.
Picasso paintings that Gilot appeared in include La Femme-Fleur (1946), where Picasso painted his muse as a flower, and Woman Drawing (Françoise Gilot) (1951). This latter painting was indicative of Gilot being an artist in her own right. It was a nice touch on Picasso’s part to represent the fact in one of his paintings of her.
So, it would seem that being an artist and being an artist’s muse can blend into one.