Throughout history, artists have been inspired by the presence of certain other people in their lives that motivated them to create their best work. The source of inspiration could be a man, a woman, or even a pet, but it is almost always a being that also possesses great talent and an expressive imagination. From the model for Édouard Manet’s Olympia and Pablo Picasso’s mistress in the heyday of surrealism to Francis Bacon’s drunken pal and David LaChapelle’s doll-face girlfriend, we’ve uncovered the most influential muses of modern times. Click through our choices and let us know who would be on your list.
Édouard Manet’s painting Olympia (1863) caused a scandal when it was first exhibited at the 1865 Salon in Paris. Manet painted his muse Victorine Meurent, an artist and popular model of the day, as a prostitute with her maid. Manet featured Meurent in many of his paintings, including his equally famous masterpiece, Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe (The Picnic,) which also portrayed her in the nude, although outdoors.
Kiki de Montparnasse — born Alice Prin — started modeling nude at age 14 and soon became the muse for for many of the Surrealist artists of the 1920s. Man Ray made Kiki his lover and cast her in many of his most famous photos and films, including this iconic picture, Noire et Blanche (Black and White), from 1926. Kiki was also an accomplished cabaret singer, memoirist, and painter.
Pablo Picasso’s mistress from 1927 to 1935, Marie-Thérèse Walter, was the artist’s favorite model during his surrealist period — resulting in some sweet and horrific paintings of his muse, such as this coveted canvas, Repose (1932) that’s owned by hedge fund honcho Steven Cohen. Four years after Picasso’s death in 1973, Walter hung herself.
Photographer and avant-garde art dealer Alfred Stieglitz fell in love with Georgia O’Keeffe’s artwork before falling head over heels over her. Many years her senior, Steiglitz photographed his young muse nude and exhibited the pictures, which caused a sensation. After divorcing his wife and marrying O’Keeffe, the photographer took hundreds more pictures of her, including this striking image of the talented painter’s exquisite and madly creative hands.
Initially the wife of surrealist poet Paul Éluard and lover of painter Max Ernst, the Russian-born Gala Diakonova won the heart of Spanish painter Salvador Dalí when they first met, even though she was 10 years older than him. Dalí, who was supposedly a virgin at the time, was enraptured by Gala — painting her endlessly as an erotic goddess over the years, even as she aged.
Painter Francis Bacon purportedly met George Dyer in 1964 when he caught his soon-to-be muse breaking into his home. Bacon’s twisted portraits of Dyer — many of them large, abstract, multi-paneled paintings — are considered by critics to be the artist’s most inspired works. The alcoholic, chain-smoking Dyer, who had no profession other than hanger-on, eventually wore out his welcome with Bacon’s friends and finally Bacon himself — but he died with a vengeance, committing suicide on the eve of the artist’s Paris retrospective in 1971.
The subject of several famous photographs with and without the photographer, singer-songwriter Patti Smith met Robert Mapplethorpe in New York in the turbulent ’60s. The two became roommates and lovers before each became superstars in their own right — she the godmother of punk music and he a prince of darkness that exposed the underbelly of New York’s gay, S&M, sex scene of the 1970s. This photograph of his former muse and recent biographer was shot in a New York loft in 1976.
Wife and muse of celebrated Italian artist Francesco Clemente, Alba Clemente has traveled the world at her husband’s side and inspired countless drawings, watercolors, pastels, prints, and paintings. Included in his self-portraits, the former actress, who first met the artist in Rome in 1974, is often portrayed as Clemente’s female double or soul mate.
A secretive model for realist painter Andrew Wyeth, the Prussian-born Helga Testorf became the captivating subject of her Maine neighbor’s studies for 15 years without the knowledge of her husband or his wife. Obsessively portrayed in 247 brooding portraits where she is with and without clothing, Helga became an American icon when one of Wyeth portraits of his muse made the cover of Time magazine on August 18, 1986.
A model, actress, and nightclub hostess, Amanda Lepore was born a boy, but had a gender reassignment surgery while still a teenager. David LaChapelle met his oft-photographed muse and social companion at New York’s famous Bowery Bar in 2000. The subject of his editorial and ad campaigns, trippy art photos, and gallery installations, Lepore has become one of the most recognized faces of the New York underground.