Muses: Women Who Inspire is a lavish coffee table book, published by Flammarion, all about the romantic muse. ‘Romance’ is definitely the watchword – almost all of the muses in this book were engaged sexually with their masters (for want of a much better word). The modern muse is disregarded – Edie Sedgewick for her drug use, Grace Jones for her perceived lack of longevity and Kate Miss for, well, just being Kate Moss. The woman in this book cover a period of roughly 100 years, from about 1850 to 1950, from the Countess Castiglioni (who, both hearteningly and pathetically, was her own muse) to Giulietta Masina, the sprite-like wife of Federico Fellini.
This rather large hardback is stuffed to the gills with women, some you have heard of, some who are a whisker away from relegation to the purgatory of obscurity. The selections are wide-ranging from art to literature to film to photography and often quite illuminating, but the treatment of said muses is interesting.
In quite a lot of the profiles, we don’t learn how the women directly influenced the artists – unless it is quite obvious (Salvador Dali using his wife Gala as a model, for example). The women are related to in terms of their influence and not their personality, which is unfortunate. Photographer Lee Miller’s life after her affair with Man Ray is referred to only in a cursory way, which is surprising as that period of her life was the one in which she would make the biggest impact on the world. Rather worryingly, Lewis Carroll’s disputed paedophilia is treated in almost apologetic terms in Alice Liddell’s profile, saying in one breath that his behaviour was dubious and in the next that “one should steer clear of judging a personality that was undeniably complex, paradoxical and disarming”.
The real strength of this book is the layout as well as the selection of muses. A rich and diverse amount of photographs and artworks as well as a rich and diverse group of women are masterfully showcased. The scandals, the heartbreaks, the subtle manipulation – it’s all here. If you like a shot of scandal with your history, you’ll enjoy this book.
Muses: Women Who Inspire is published by Flammarion and is available in all good bookshops.