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.
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.
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.
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.
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:-
“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