Painted Ladies

I came across this fantastic video of women who inspired artists to pick up their paintbrushes up and paint.  Women have always acted as muses for artists and the idea of the artist’s model is usually synonymous with women – not men though Michelangelo and perhaps Caravaggio are a couple of exceptions.

A lot of the women remain anonymous in the sense that their name has not been used in the title of the painting.  Titles like ‘The Madonna of the Carnation’ by Leonardo say nothing about the real identity of the sitter.  She is transformed into a Madonna forever.

Madonna of the Carnation Leonardo Da Vinci

French impressionist Pierre Gustave Renoir (1841 -19191) painting ‘Two sisters on a Terrace’ in 1881.  This is a very well-known picture but it was a long time before it was established who the actual sisters were. 

two sisters on a terrace Renoir

 Expert Francois Daulte established that the older girl was Jeanne Darlot, who was eighteen at the time of the painting.  She joined the Theatre Gymnase and acted in comedies in supporting roles.  She had some success and was photographed for newspapers.   After her début at the Comédie Française she quit the stage and became the kept mistress of a chocolate manufacturer and later a senator.  She never married.

martyr of solway John Everett Millais

The Martyr of the Solway is a famous painting by Pre Raphaelite John Everett Millais.  The martyr in the picture is after a Margaret Wilson who refused to recognise established  Church of Scotland because she was a member of the Free Church.  The painting shows Margaret chained to rocks on the Solway Firth.  She and her friend were condemned to death by drowning in 1685.  The brave woman sang and quoted defiantly from the scriptures, her hair floating around her like a halo. 

martyr of solway xray

Millais had painted this portrait in 1871, originally the figure was nude (as a later  X-ray showed) but was later  ‘clothed’ so it didn’t offend the staid Victorians. I think this model is Lizzie Siddal, wife of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.


Salvador painted Raphaelesque Head Exploding in 1951.  the model is Gala his wife.  he never seemed to tire of painting her and likening the protons and neutrons that are exploding from her head as Angelic forms:-

Salvador Dali Raphaelesque Head Exploding 1951

“there are residues of substances; it is for this reason that certain beings appear to me so close to angels such as Raphael and Saint John of the Cross. Raphael’s temperature is like that almost chilly air of spring, which in turn is exactly that of the Virgin and of the rose.” Ant he adds solemnly, “I need an ideal of hyperaesthetic purity. More and more I am preoccupied by an idea of chastity. For me, it is an essential condition of the spiritual life.”

Apart from some commisions and a few famous models we may never know who a lot of these women were, but through through their portraits their beauty lives on and will never age.

   For a complete list of the women and who painted them click here and all shall become clear!

Renoir information here

Martyr of Solway at the Walker Gallery Liverpool here

Elizabeth Siddal biography here

4 thoughts on “Painted Ladies

  1. Thanks Sara for your visit and compliment – very appreciated1 Lots to see here (mostly art based – but art is everywhere after all 🙂

  2. I love Raphael’s and Waterhouse’s women most. I am a bit in two minds about Rossetti – Elizabeth Siddal and Fanny are somewhat masculine looking, or at least this is how he transposed them. Anyway, I greatly enjoyed this post!

    I was thinking about the following – women aside, have you ever noticed the utter ugliness of baby Jesuses in almost each and every religious painting? They’re scary! We should establish a hierarchy of the ugliest and see what we get. I think I already have my ultimate number 1 ;-).

  3. You have a good point about some of the Raphaelite women Jadepaloma, – I think its the small head, big shoulders sort of thing. Michaelangelo’s women were real mud wrestling types 🙂
    Yes, there are some rather unfortunate looking baby Jesus’s, it does make you wonder if they were modelled on real babies! If they were…… well some of them have faces only a mother could love (as they say). Which baby did you have in mind? I’m curious 🙂

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