I have decided that today is good day for the revival of some good ol’ art gossip filled with passion and sex and crazy, overwhelming emotions and heartbreak. We have Ilona Staller, a.k.a. Cicciolina, a.k.a. Jeff Koon’s ex-wife and former porn star, to thank for this. I saw her portrait in the David Bailey exhibition in London’s National Portrait Gallery as the little coquette that she is and sparks flew and I just knew. I knew that a little passionate story-telling time is what we all need on a casual Wednesday in May. Here is a whimsical recap of my three favorite scandalous muses of the 20th century. I love these tragic creatures because they drove certain artists CRAZZZZZY and the artistic fruit that that craziness bore is just fabulous.
In no specific order, please welcome our muses:
1. George Dyer was Francis Bacon’s most tumultuous lover. His name, now a days, is synonymous with $$$. The pair met on a cool English night when a confused Mr. Dyer broke into Bacon’s London home in late 1963. A disturbed genius, as Bacon was, fell in love with his burglar instead of sending him to jail. Both borderline alcoholics and extremely preoccupied with their appearance, their relationship developed into a passionate, aggressive, tragic affair that scarred the rest of Bacon’s work – in a good way of course. It was a love-hate relationship, really. Dyer, the well-built, chain-smoking nomad, happened to enter Bacon’s life at the moment when his work had just made its official international mark through a retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the publishing of his first catalogue raisonné. Eventually dear, sad George committed suicide on the eve of the inauguration of Bacon’s exhibition at Le Grand Palais in the city of lights in 1971. Was that a desperate call for attention or what?
2. Who can be dubbed the greatest muse of the 20th century if not Marie-Thérèse Walter? At just 17 years old, in 1927, she met 45 year-old Picasso on the streets of Paris as she was coming out of the metro. Having no idea who he was, he lured her into his layer like a cantil snake and their mad, ardent love that lasted for about ten years and bore them a baby girl, began. As my favorite art critic, Jerry Saltz, points out, “Marie-Thérèse [was] the fertile inspiration that made Picasso Picasso after Cubism”. (Wow, that’s a heavy load to bear!) But who could resist that Spanish stud? Not long after his affair with MT began (while he was still married to his first wife, Olga) sneaky little Pablito met Dora Maar, the muse portrayed in his paintings as the woman in tears. As Dora astutely pointed out to him, “as an artist you may be extraordinary, but morally you are worthless”. HA! Marie-Thérèse‘s fate was a tragic one as she hung herself in 1977, four years after Picasso died. And Dora Maar, well, he left her just as he had found her: in tears.
3. Gala, Gala, Gala… Before becoming Salvador Dali’s wife in 1934 she was married to the French poet, Paul Eluard, and lived in a manage a trois with another surrealist artist, Max Ernst. Naughty, naughty Gala. All of that was completely irrelevant to the effect that she had on Dali but as I said earlier on, who does not like a bit of gossip? She was ten years older than him, a mother who cared little for her only daughter, and she was highly disapproved of by his family. He was an artist in bloom who was afraid of vaginas and therefore apparently a virgin when they married. But regardless, Dali never saw beyond Gala as he had only eyes for her. She was his muse, model, business partner, collaborator, demon, and publicist. Art historians do not speak marvels of Gala Dali because of her money-craving, power-loving, nymphomaniatic ways yet she was ever present and influential in his work and that is undeniable. He would often sign both of their names on his paintings as ‘Gala Salvador Dali’. When she died in 1982 he lost his will to live, his nervous system was damaged and there was simply no Salvador without Gala.