Movies about Muses

by Nina Chabel

It’s that time of the semester again where I want to forget about the upcoming finals madness and stay in my bed and watch movies. I’m a big fan of biopics, especially ones about artists. I loved Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) and Renoir (2012), both movies focusing on the women who inspired the artists. Although the story in the Girl with a Pearl Earring about Griet and Johannes Vermeer was mostly imagined by Tracy Chevalier who wrote the book the movie is based on, the story in Renoir is about the real life collaboration between model Catherine Hessling and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

This got me thinking about the lives and labour of all the models and muses who inspired and drove all the famous painters we see in museums today. These women are largely left forgotten, except perhaps as a brief mention in the artist’s biography.

I’ve compiled a shortlist of movies I want to see made about the wives, lovers, muses, and models of male artists that we do not get to hear about enough:

Victorine Meurent (1844 - 1927)

Olympia, 1863 by Édouard Manet. Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Victorine Meurent was a frequent model for Édouard Manet but she was also an artist herself who exhibited her works at the Paris Salon. Meurent has become mythologized and her persona is used as a character in several fiction novels. Meurent also appears in a movie - Intimate Lives: The Women of Manet, aka Manet in Love (1998), although I believe that she deserves a movie of her own about her artist life and her various collaborations with Manet and Alfred Stevens.

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986)

Georgia O’Keeffe, 1918, photograph by Alfred Stieglitz

Georgia O’Keeffe, a famous artist in her own right, was also married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who used O’Keeffe as a model for his photographs. I would love to see a movie about O’Keeffe’s life before Albert, her time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then the Art Students League of New York and her time teaching in Virginia, Texas, and South Carolina. A movie about her life after Albert would be twice as interesting: O’Keeffe moved to live and work in a ranch in New Mexico. Although there is already a made-for-TV movie about O’Keeffe and her relationship with Stieglitz (Georgia O’Keeffe, 2009), I want to see it on the big screen.  

Gala Dalí (1894 – 1982)

Galarina, 1944 portrait of Gala Dalí by Salvador Dalí. Teatre Museu Gala Salvador Dalí in Figueres, Catalonia, Spain.

Although several movies have been made about Salvador Dalí, there hasn’t been a movie yet which focused on his wife, Gala Dalí. Gala Dalí was born Elena Ivanovna Diakonova to a family of Russian intellectuals. She worked as a schoolteacher in Moscow before moving to Paris and marrying the poet and founder of the surrealist movement, Paul Éluard. Later, in 1928, Gala met Dalí and remained with him until her death. Gala Dalí influenced not one but two men who went on to become famous artists. I would absolutely love to see a movie about her life and path.

While we wait for these movies to be made, I think I’m going to take a peek at some Georgia O’Keeffe biographies!

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