How does one gain immortality these days? No, this is actually a serious question! For the Ancient Egyptians, they took the important person’s corpse, removed the intestines and the other major decomposable parts (excepting the heart of course… every rookie embalmer knows that!), dried the body out with natron*, stuffed it with sawdust, wrapped it in linen, placed it in a couple of coffins, and then put it inside a large sarcophagus**. Easy. Then, they left the now-mummified body, erected a gigantic marking stone (obviously why the pyramids were built), and voila: today practically everybody and their grandmother knows the name of Tutankhamen. Not bad for a 5,000 year-old mummy!
However, in today’s society many people like to achieve fame, notoriety, and assurance of impending immortality (or at least of an immortalised image) whilst they’re still alive. I know, weird, right?! Thus, we are faced with the likes of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian (congratulations on the baby news by the way).
Then again, some people achieve fame, notoriety, and assurance of immortality quite involuntarily. How? You might legitimately be wondering. Well, by serving as a muse. For instance, where would Leonardo da Vinci be without the woman who sat for the Mona Lisa? The mysterious girl who was the inspiration for Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring –brought to further recognition with the 2003 film of the same name, portrayed as she was by Scarlett Johansson. The actress has also been a muse in her own right: to Woody Allen. What started out as collaboration for Match Point (2005), evolved into further collaborations for Scoop (2006), and the lauded Vicky Christina Barcelona (2008). Speaking of Woody Allen, he is the modern master of the muse. Who could forget Dianne Keaton in Annie Hall (1977), or Mia Farrow in Alice (1990)?
In recent art history, Andy Warhol’s great and troubled muse Edie Sedgwick appeared in many of his short films, whilst Kate Moss has become one of art and fashion’s greatest muses. Of greatest note perhaps are the works she inspired from Lucian Freud, Chuck Close, and Banksy.
Be that as it may, perhaps one of the most under-appreciated muses of art history is Matisse’s muse: Lorette. Before Lorette, Matisse was often to be found painting still life and landscapes. Lorette provided the inspiration for Matisse to develop a rich and flowing colour palette and sense of line. An increased intimacy with the subject can also be seen; over the period of 7-8 months of Lorette’s modelling for Matisse, we see her expressions change from wary to inviting. With this professional Italian model, Matisse was ready to abandon abstractionism. After painting Lorette around fifty times during the months that she modelled for him, he took his habit of obsessive painting with him to his future collaborations with models.
I believe that it truly can be said that without the influence of Lorette, Matisse might well not have evolved into the same famed and revered artist that we know today. And Lorette? We do not know what became of her, but she is certainly recognised today – and all because of the fact that she was Matisse’s muse.
*Fun fact: did you know natron is 17% baking soda? Kids: Do not try this at home!
** Disclaimer: This is not a step-by-step guide on how to mummify someone in case you were wondering.
To view more of Matisse’s muses, and to see how they influenced his painting, check out the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The exhibition Matisse: In Search of True Paintings is being held until March 17th 2013. If New York is a little out of the budget, don’t fear! The books Flowers and Still Life by Victoria Charles chart several masters’ work on the subjects, including that of Matisse. Familiarise yourself with the abstract and the use of line, to fully understand and appreciate the brilliant early work of Matisse.