Last week, Pablo Picasso’s Portrait of Dora Maar (1939) was the standout lot at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, beating its estimate to fetch $21.6 million. The accompanying catalog describes Maar as “Picasso’s lover and muse,” who inspired him with “her unique charm and creativity.”
But why is the market more in love with the muse than ever at a time when the broader art world is celebrating women like Maar as artists in their own right?
Can this label ever empower a woman? Images of muses have always been coveted by dealers and collectors. Under the hammer, Picasso’s portraits of women are his bestsellers.
Back in 2016, Mrs Assise, depicting artist Fernande Olivier, has been sold at Sotheby’s London for £43.2million (€52.9million). A portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, Femme Assise Pres d’une Fenetremade $103.4 million (€87.5 million) at Christie’s New York in 2021.
Picasso’s success was undoubtedly determined by his muses. But in the age of #MeToo that has exposed Picasso’s abuse of these women, why is there increased hype surrounding his muses at auctions?
Maybe the sellers cash in and decide now is the right time to flip pictures of the female character. Picasso’s painting of Walter as a sensual sea monster, Femme Nue Couchee (1932) is expected to gross more than $60 million when it debuts in New York this month.
Museums have something to do with the growing demand for the muse. This season, London’s Royal Academy has put another spotlight on it in its titled exhibition Whistler’s wife in white: Joanna Hiffernanwhile the Dulwich Picture Gallery examines the motif of the lone female figure in Reframed: The Woman in the Window. Historically, the muse was viewed as a passive model possessed by a male artist. Shows are beginning to re-evaluate these women as creative agents who played large roles in creating their own portraits.
By recognizing their contribution, power is transferred to the muse, making the label positive. This fresh take on the muse is reflected in each of the portraits for sale. None are anonymous eroticized nudes or allegorical characters. Instead, they represent real women who have developed personal relationships with the artists who have portrayed them.
Picasso’s 1939 portrait of Maar reflects her identity as an artist whose photography inspired him to change his artistic direction. A circular pattern on her sweater hints at Maar’s signature surrealism, with hands protruding from spiraling snail shells.
Even Walter, who appears as a sexy fertility figure in most of the portraits Picasso painted of her, was transformed into a nautical creature, indicating her prowess in the sea (which impressed Picasso, who couldn’t swim).
Joining Picasso’s muses at the auction is Alice Prin. At Man Ray Le Violon d’Ingres (1924) has two black “F” shapes superimposed on its back, representing a violin. This musical image marks Prin as a singer who has earned the title “Queen of Montparnasse” for her performances throughout Paris during the jazz age. If this lot reaches the low estimate of $5 million, it will become the most expensive photograph ever sold at auction.
Likewise that of Andy Warhol Shot Sage Blue Marilyn (1964), for sale at Christie’s next Monday, invites the viewer beyond the glossy surface of the muse. Not only was it produced after the unexpected death of Marilyn Monroe, but it was also shot with a pistol by a visitor to the artist’s studio. Steeped in tragedy, it raises questions about the cost of celebrity status in our influencer-obsessed society. Aren’t these muses the original influencers?
Netflix was released last week The Marilyn Monroe Mystery: The Unheard Tapes, confirming our all-encompassing obsession with these high-status women. Estimated at $200 million (190 million euros), Warhol’s portrait of Monroe is set to become the most expensive 20th-century work of art ever sold at auction.
Contemporary women also benefit from their highly valued muse status. In her latest book Letters to Gwen Johnartist Celia Paul uses her connection with Lucian Freud to sell her side of the story.
A word that was historically used in favor of male artists is being reclaimed throughout the art world to recognize and reward women. Key figures, from curators to retailers, believe in this rebranding of the muse as an influencer and icon; as the subject and not the object of the masterpieces they create together.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/influence-of-arts-muses-finally-being-truly-recognised-41607961.html The influence of the muses of art is finally being truly recognised