Arts & Culture

9 Fabulous Muses Who Inspired the World's Greatest Artists

Whether for virtue or scandal, these individuals are known for more than the art they inspired.
IMAGE WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
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In centuries past, the Greeks used to call upon nine divine muses—each representing a different art—for inspiration. Over time, however, it was discovered that the earthly realm is filled with muses of its own.

While many of them inspire by virtue of their beauty alone, others have much more interesting stories to tell. Here are nine of the most fascinating.

Edie Sedgewick

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Andy Warhol’s list of muses includes some of the biggest names in modern history—Marilyn Monroe, Diane Von Furstenberg, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name a few—but it’s Edie Sedgwick many people have come to associate with the pop culture icon. The most notorious of Warhol’s Superstars, Sedgwick starred in several of his underground films, including Poor Little Rich Girl, Afternoon, and Face.

In many of these, Sedgwick was under the influence of amphetamine and heroin, and was unabashedly vocal about her drug use. Her addiction placed her at the center of many scandals, but all of them only served to endear her even more to those in the art world. Designer Betsey Johnson even once proudly said, “When Edie set her apartment on fire, she was in one of my dresses.”

Beatrice Portinari


It's apparent that Dante Alghieri, simply called Dante, displayed an obsession with his beloved Beatrice, having written about her in his two most important works, La Vita Nuova and La Divina Comedia. But what makes her such a fascinating muse, aside from the grandeur in which the poet described her, was that, by all historical accounts, Dante had only met Portinari four times in his life. Despite the limited time they spent together, it’s clear that Dante saw something divine in Portinari, having written volumes about the impact she had left on him in what equated to nothing more than fleeting moments.

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Uma Thurman

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In stark contrast to Dante, Quentin Tarantino has been fortunate enough to have his own muse, Uma Thurman, as part of his life for more than a decade, and was even (falsely) rumored to be dating her. The two first met in 1993, during casting for Pulp Fiction. Ten years later, Tarantino revisited an idea that Thurman brought up on the Fiction set—one that would eventually become Kill Bill and Kill Bill: Volume 2.


While filming the former, Tarantino was quoted as saying, “I want to direct [Thurman] for the rest of my life.” The painfully private Thurman (a stark contrast to the larger-than-life Tarantino) was uneasy about being his muse, but it was exactly this inherent delicateness she possessed that inspired the director’s outrageous flicks.

Lili Elbe


A painting of Lili Elbe; the artist Gerda Wegener


Much has been written about how love’s inspiration can transcend time, but in the case of Gerda Wegener and her husband Lili Elbe, it transcended traditional gender norms at a time when sex was seen only in binaries. Elbe (born Einar Wegener) famously dressed up as a woman for his wife’s paintings, inspiring the film The Danish Girl. Wegener, in turn, experienced a resurgence in her career because of the enchanting woman Elbe was portrayed as on canvas. Later on, Elbe became one of the first people in history to undergo gender confirmation surgery, with Wegener by her side.

Diego Rivera

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Rivera in one of Kahlo's works

Not all muse relationships are smooth sailing; sometimes, inspiration can be found in tempests. Diego Rivera, the famously volatile husband of Frida Kahlo, was also responsible for guiding the artist’s most prolific period. The prodigious Kahlo, inspired by Rivera’s fiery politics, began experimenting with surrealistic elements during their marriage, producing some of her most provocative works. Unfortunately, the tumultuousness of their marriage also reflected in some of her more tragic pieces.

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Zelda Fitzgerald

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The Fitzgeralds are another example of dysfunction lending itself to art. Both novelists, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were notoriously competitive with each other, which would often exacerbate the friction that came with alleged affairs—including one between Scott and Ernest Hemingway. They would mine their personal lives for their stories, sometimes stepping on each others’ toes when one would write about an experience before the other. Their toxic relationship, however, would serve as the inspiration for some of their finest works, including Scott’s Tender is the Night and Zelda’s Save Me the Waltz.

Sara Murphy

Zelda wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald’s only muse. New York socialite Sara Murphy moved with her husband to the French Riviera where they mingled with the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Pablo Picasso. Characters in Fitzgerald’s and Hemingway’s works resembled the Murphys not only in personality but in appearance as well. Sarah herself was immortalized in 5 of Picasso’s paintings, including Woman Seated in an Armchair. Sara has publicly denounced some unflattering depictions of herself, however, including the main character in Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night.

Adele Bloch-Bauer


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Adele Bloch-Bauer bears the unique distinction of being the only person to have been painted by Gustav Klimt more than once. Her first portrait, known to many as “The Lady in Gold,” was the final piece of Klimt’s esteemed gold phase, while the second was famously sold by Oprah Winfrey for USD150M in 2016. It’s been suggested that one of the reasons why Klimt seemed more enamored by Bloch-Bauer than others was that the two were having an affair.

Pattie Boyd

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Of the multitude of women to have inspired great music throughout history, Pattie Boyd appears to be among the most enchanting. Not only were three of the greatest love songs in modern history written about her, but they bridged her time married to two rock and roll icons.

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George Harrison wrote The Beatles’ “Something” as a matter-of-fact way of describing his feelings for her, his then-wife. After their marriage fell apart, Eric Clapton tried his luck with her but failed. The rejection led Clapton to write the pained ballad “Layla.” Clapton and Boyd eventually married, however, and watching her get dressed for a party at the McCartneys inspired Clapton to write the timeless “Wonderful Tonight.” On top of all that, there have been at least seven other songs written about Boyd, making her one of music’s most impressive muses.

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Marco Sumayao
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