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Art History’s Most Legendary Models
They're more than objects in a composition.
Art Stuff 28 Sep 2021

We’re all much more likely to know the names of the (mostly male) painters celebrated throughout art history, but what about the models who inspired their work and who lent their face and bodies to culture’s best-loved works? 

So often, these women are reduced to just being the wife, mistress, or muse of an artist. They’re more than objects in a composition.

We’re celebrating the stories of 6 of the world’s most recognisable models, and who they were outside of the canvas.

Dora Maar

Image: Artsy

The face of Picasso’s Weeping Woman and multiple photographs by Man Ray, Dora Maar was an incredibly talented photographer and painter in her own right. She had a rocky relationship with Picasso who’s career overshadowed Maar’s and left her underappreciated in art history. 

Emilie Louise Flöge

Emilie Louise Flöge starred in many of Gustav Klimt’s works and was his life companion. The Kiss shows Emilie with (supposedly) Gustav, in an embrace, announcing their love to the world. Emilie was a fashion designer, tailor of custom-made haute couture clothing, and a successful business woman. With her sister Helene, Emilie founded the fashion house Schwestern Flöge.

Jane Avril

A favourite model of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Jane Avril was a famous dancer and stage actress known for her jerky movement (partially caused by possible Sydenham’s Chorea) and her performances at the Moulin Rouge. Captured multiple times by Toulouse-Lautrec, Avril’s face was also used in a bizarre sculpture by Antoine Bourdelle. 

Alice Prin

Image: AnOther Magazine

Alice Prin was a singer, actress, painter, and memoirist in addition to being an artist’s model. She was nicknamed Kiki de Montparnasse after the area of Paris she became a socialite in. She was an artist in her own right and had a sell-out exhibition in Paris in 1927, signing her works ‘Kiki’.  Her autobiography was published in 1929, and she was named ‘Queen of Montpanasse’. Kiki posed for dozens of artists in Paris including painters, photographers, and sculptors. 

Suzanne Leenhoff

The wife of Édouard Manet, Suzanne was a talented pianist and piano teacher. In fact, that is how she met her future husband, when his father hired her as a piano teacher for Édouard and his brothers. They kept their relationship secret from his father, Auguste, with whom she might also have been having an affair, and married after he died. A famous portrait of both Manet and Suzanne done by Degas is slashed vertically right through Suzanne’s face, and no one is quite sure why Manet did this. 

Julie Manet 

Julie Manet was the only child of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet, both of whom had died by the time Julie was 16. She went to live with the critic and poet Mallarmé, and received support from other Impressionists including Renoir. She posed multiple times for Renoir and her uncle Édouard (the artist we refer to as ‘Manet’ despite there being many of them). Her diary was published as ‘Growing up with the Impressionists’. 

Author: Verity Babbs

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