Female Modernists and Their Muses

Female Modernists and Their Muses


Uncover the art of female artists and their muses, on offer in the Impressionist and Modern Art Online auction (until 17 December 2019, New York).

W ho came first – the artist or the muse? In some instances, the roles are interchangeable; the artist can serve as both muse and creator. This phenomenon appears frequently in modern art, especially in regard to the relationships of Françoise Gilot & Pablo Picasso, Leonora Carrington & Max Ernst and Camille Claudel & Auguste Rodin. These couples composed their art in tandem, drawing influence from each other’s oeuvres. In the cases of Gilot, Carrington and Claudel, the archetypal tale of male artist and female muse is reversed; here, the female artists sought artistic inspiration from the forms of their male counterparts. Below, explore the artists’ love stories – and discover a few of the pieces that were created as a direct result.

Françoise Gilot & Pablo Picasso

F rançoise Gilot is widely known as the only woman who dared to leave Picasso. He was said to have declared as they separated: “You imagine people will be interested in you? They won't ever, really, just for yourself. Even if you think people like you, it will only be a kind of curiosity they will have about a person whose life has touched mine so intimately.”

In 1943, when Gilot had her first major exhibition in Paris, she, then 21, met the 61-year-old Picasso at Le Catalan restaurant. The two began a decade-long relationship that resulted in the birth of two children, Claude and Paloma. During this time, Gilot exerted a profound influence on Picasso’s work. She was much more than merely Picasso’s muse and companion; when she famously first met him, she was already an ambitious, exhibiting painter. His biographer John Richardson acknowledged that:

“[He] took from her rather more than she took from him.”

Picasso and Gilot ended their relationship around 1953, and after eleven years, Gilot published Life with Picasso, a complicated portrait of life in the orbit of a genius, which sold over one million copies in its first year.

Leonora Carrington & Max Ernst

A ndré Breton would have described the meeting between Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst in June 1937 as a case of hazard objectif – an objective chance encounter. It was predetermined from the moment Leonora's mother gave her a copy of Herbert Read's Surrealism the previous Christmas, where she first came upon Ernst’s work. A year after, Carrington encountered Ernst at a dinner hosted by her classmate. She observed him subdue the foam on his beer to avoid spilling it, and when he, looking up from his dinner plate, noticed her for the first time, they fell in love. She recalled that:

“Max was at that moment the man that every woman waits for; there it was, the man that I had always imagined, it was a marvelous union. I was 19 [she in fact had turned twenty-two months earlier and he 46]. We decided to live in Paris.”
Salomon Grimberg, Leonora Carrington: What She Might Be, The Dallas Museum of Art, 2007-2008, p. 51

The couple lived in Paris and soon moved to Saint-Martin d'Ardèche, after Carrington was physically attacked by Marie-Berthe, Ernst’s wife of ten years. In Saint-Martin d'Ardèche, they transformed a farmhouse into a Surrealist haven, with cement sculptures and bas-reliefs of hybrid figures of birds and horses in the garden and paintings of imaginary beasts on the doors and walls. They were lovers and artistic collaborators, until the outbreak of World War II, which eventually separated the two.

Camille Claudel & Auguste Rodin

C amille Claudel was a daring and innovative artist. She moved to Paris to pursue a career in the arts in the early 1880s and was not yet twenty when the sculptor Paul Dubois introduced her to Auguste Rodin. Within a year she became an apprentice in his studio, sparking a legendary relationship which would greatly influence the careers of both artists. Claudel and Rodin worked side by side for over a decade, during which time Claudel flourished both as an indispensable figure in Rodin’s studio and as a virtuosic sculptor in her own right, producing several elegant and sensual masterpieces. Over these years she became Rodin's muse, collaborator and lover, their partnership both passionate and tumultuous. Even as the two artists grew closer professionally, referencing each other's art in numerous ways over this period of extraordinarily symbiotic creativity, their romantic relationship began to disintegrate in 1890, when Rodin refused to leave his long-term mistress, Rose Beuret, with whom he had lived since 1864. It is true that Claudel exhibited no sculpture during the following two years, perhaps due to the tensions in her personal life.

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