The 10 Most Iconic Muses in the Art World

most iconic muses of all time

Art is both powerful and personal. Different pieces of art were created with different intentions. Various things inspire artists; some artists are inspired by nature while others are inspired by fantasy. However, the most common form of inspiration comes from another person - a muse.

There are people throughout history whose style and image has had the relentless power to not only captivate but influence an artist. These people are called muses and they aid artists in the creation of their masterpieces. Artists feed off the energy of their muses and create work that involves them, directly and indirectly.

The following feature examines some of the most famous and influential muses in the arts. This exploration through art history features the faces that influenced works of art. Each of the following ten individuals has possessed a form of power over the following ten incredible artists. Most people have the misconception that being someone’s muse entails being their lover, and although that has been the case at times, you will notice that sometimes the relationship between muse and artist is purely professional. The following ten people inspired artists who inspired generations, making these the ten most iconic muses in art throughout history.

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10 Marie-Therese Walter - Muse of Pablo Picasso

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Pablo Picasso was known for having muses. However, some were more influential to his work than others. Picasso and Walter met in 1927. At the time Picasso was married to a Russian Ballerina and their son was only five years old. Nonetheless, Picasso was not faithful and when Walter got pregnant, his Russian bride left and went to the South of France, taking their child with her. Throughout Picasso and Walter's relationship, he made numerous paintings of her including Le Reve, one of his most famous works. Sadly, in true Picasso fashion, he eventually left Marie-Therese for another woman. Walter ended up hanging herself four years after his death.

9 Coco Young - Muse of Ryan McGinley

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The story is stereotypical; beautiful girl meets super famous and talented photographer, girl then becomes famous supermodel. When McGinley set eyes on Young, he was instantly inspired by her look. McGinley was stimulated to make her the star of numerous spreads he had been working on which jumpstarted Young’s modeling career. McGinley was moved and motivated by her raw natural beauty and all-American look. The pair helped each other’s careers and by Coco Young being his muse, she became a huge sensation in the fashion world, signing with top agencies and working for A-list clients.

8 Brigitte Bardot - Muse of Roger Vadim

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Brigitte Bardot is arguably one of the sexiest women to ever live and in 1950 when she was only 15, she began dating Roger Vadim who was 22 at the time. Vadim was a journalist and screenwriter whose obsession with her was strong. He married Bardot in 1952 and had plans to make her a huge movie star. He would describe his bride as “Sex on Legs” and she became the star and inspiration behind many of his films including Et Dieu créa la femme, meaning “And God Created Women.” Vadim, who later married Jane Fonda after he divorced Bardot always considered Bardot his main muse throughout his life.

7 Dora Maar - Muse of Pablo Picasso

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Dora Maar was a French artist known for her photography, painting and poetry. Maar and Picasso were lovers. When they met he was 54 and she was only 28, however they inspired one another. Their passionate relationship lasted nine years and throughout that time Picasso painted numerous sad portraits of her. Maar had been in a depression over her sterility and Picasso captured that sadness in his paintings. Eventually Pablo Picasso moved on to another lover, but Maar will always be known as one of his most influential muses.

6 Victorine Meurent - Muse of Edouard Manet

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Manet spotted Meurent on the street and was immediately drawn to her. As he saw her running through the streets it triggered something in his mind, he imagined an entirely new way of seeing the world and understanding it. There was something about her that compelled him to make her the face of a new aesthetic movement, which ended up changing the art world forever. Throughout his lifetime, he created nine paintings of her. Although major biographers have ignored her influence, Meurent was a huge inspiration for Manet who in exchange inspired an entire movement in the art world.

5 The Girl With The Pearl Earring - Muse of Johannes Vermeer

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Everyone knows the painting, however not everyone knows the story. Vermeer’s famous and iconic painting depicts a beautiful woman, who until this day remains anonymous. At the time when this piece was created, the artist had been painting aristocracy. Which is why it was surprising when he painted this, breaking from his usual style. It was his attempt to show the magnetism of the female expression. "The Girl With The Pearl Earing" ended up being Vermeer’s most famous painting. The Girl With the Pearl Earing is one of the most iconic and noticeable muses in history and yet we will most probably never know her identity.

4 Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe

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The story of Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe is one many know. The two artists were viewed as misfits who found each other. Together they created art that help mold and influence an entire movement. Mapplethorpe the photographer and Smith the singer songwriter and poet found each other in a world where everyone was against them, and even after Mapplethorpe discovered his homosexuality the two were inseparable. Smith and Mapplethorpe were each other’s muses and best friends. They motivated each other through the '60s and '70s in New York City, through the City Punk Rock movement. Smith even wrote a book inspired by Mapplethorpe entitled Just Kids.

3 Lee Miller - Muse of Man Ray

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Lee Miller was the perfect muse. Miller had been modeling for a few years when she ran into Conde Montrose Nast. For those of you who don’t know who Conde Montrose Nast is, he is the founder of Vogue. He helped start her short but successful career in the fashion world as a model. She then moved to Paris to be mentored by the legendary visual artist Man Ray. To no one's surprise, the two became lovers and documented the idiosyncrasies of their relationship through photography. The works were more focused on Miller and her mysterious aura. There was something both captivating and unknowable about her, which inspired Ray. His works still inspire artist today and Miller was definitely his most influential muse.

2 Georgia O'Keeffe - Muse of Alfred Stieglitz

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The story of O’Keeffe the painter and Stieglitz the photographer is truly one of the most known love stories in art history. For thirty-one years, between 1915 and 1946, the pair exchanged over 25,000 love letters to one another. Like numerous duos on the list, there was a noticeable age difference between the two - Stieglitz was 52 and O’Keeffe was only 28. Stieglitz was already an established artist and he included her pieces in his gallery giving her the exposure she needed. She was without a doubt his most influential muse. He loved photographing her and captured hundreds of images of her which had a huge impact on the art world.

1 Edie Sedgwick - Muse of Andy Warhol

most iconic muses of all time
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Edie Sedgwick was a stunning heiress and model, and was known for being one of Warhol’s main muses. The wild child was definitely a free spirit; she spent her entire inheritance in the span of six month. She appeared mostly in Warhol’s underground movies and gained fans due to her incredible style. Sedgwick was never mentally stable; she was hospitalized on two separate occasions. When she met Andy, the two became inseparable; she was looking to find a purpose and he was inspired by her enough to give her one. Sadly, Edie passed away at the young age of 28 due to her alcohol and drug problems, which many blame Warhol for. Warhol was extremely inspired by Edie and she will forever be known as an influence on his work. There is even a movie about her entitled Factory Girl where Sienna Miller portrays Sedgwick.

Sources: theguardian.com, npr.org, nymag.com, biography.com

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