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Muses of the Visual Arts

The nine muses in this installation are dedicated to the visual arts. They were inspired by the original Greek goddesses, but reimagined by culture and gender.  Each is paired with the art of the individual they influenced.


Gala (1894-1982) Muse to Salvador Dali (1904-1989)

Born in Russia as Elena Ivanovana Diakonova, Gala embodied the qualities of a visual arts Muse: beauty, inspiration, and seductiveness. After marrying the poet Paul Eluard in her younger years, Gala became involved in the Dada and Surrealist movements and befriended many of its noted artists, including Luis Aragon and Andre Breton. Eluard gave Gala the nickname “Gradiva” (after the mythological heroine in a Wilhelm Jensen novel who served as a driving force). She used this moniker and its variant, Gala, throughout her life.


While the Surrealists shared studio space and ideas in 1922, Eluard developed a special relationship with German artist Max Ernst. When the two began collaborating on projects, Ernst relocated to France. After the move, Ernst, Eluard, and Gala lived, worked, and loved together as a trio for two years. After Ernst left to work on a new project, Gala met Salvador Dali and her marriage to Eluard came to an end.


Gala was 35 and Dali was ten years younger when they met. He was said to be a virgin, the result of a phobia of female genitalia. The couple married in 1934 and Gala transformed the then insecure Dali into a mature artist and confident lover. Gradiva was lover, model, and inspiration to Dali and he blossomed under her mysterious spell. Dali immortalized Gala in many of his paintings.


Gala retained her physical beauty as she aged, and her libido lasted well through her 70s. She was known to have extramarital encounters with younger artists, serving as a perfect Muse for the Surrealist atmosphere. When Gala died at 88, perhaps she became an “exquisite corpse.”

Peggy Guggenheim

Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979) Muse to Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Marguerite “Peggy” Guggenheim received her inheritance about seven years after her father’s death on the Titanic. At 21, she began to embrace a bohemian lifestyle where her sexual promiscuity marked her as a rebel, and led her on many adventures.  She also began collecting art. Peggy moved to Europe, where she opened and ran a gallery in London for a couple of years. In Paris in 1941, at the onset of WWII – when “degenerate” and Jewish artists were under attack- Guggenheim purchased works, and used her money and influence to secure exit documents and cover travel expenses to The United States or other safe locations for many of these artists. Notable recipients included Andre Breton and his family, and Max Ernst.  Peggy herself gathered her treasurers and returned to the United States.  Soon after, she added Max Ernst to her collection of husbands. Upon her arrival to New York, she opened a modern gallery – The Art of This Century Gallery – showcasing surrealist artists.  In 1943, she decided to transform her gallery into a venue to introduce newly developing Abstract Expressionist art.


With the help of Marcel Duchamp and a few others, Guggenheim chose young Jackson Pollock to be the first artist featured. She commissioned a large mural from Pollock (by then a seasoned alcoholic), and became overwhelmed by the size of the project. After months of no activity, Pollock completed the painting the day it was to be hung.  The work propelled Jackson to the forefront of the Abstract Expressionist movement. His reputation continued to grow under the influence of his Muse and dealer. Peggy made no secret about her desire for Pollock as a lover, but she failed to fulfill that desire.


Although Pollock had gained fame as the pioneer of American Abstract Expressionism, he was never able to conquer his alcoholic demons and died tragically in a car crash in 1956.


Guggenheim closed her New York gallery in 1949, and moved to Venice with her treasures to organize the building of the incredible Guggenheim Museum, the accomplishment she is most remembered for.  Her museum houses one of the premier Modern, Surrealist, and Abstract Expressionist art collections.

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol (1928-1987) Muse to Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)

Jean-Michel Basquiat met up with Andy at one of his luncheons during the 1980s. This may not have been the first meeting of Andy and Jean-Michel, but they seemed to develop a rapport at this time. Within an hour of leaving the meeting, Basquiat returned to Warhol’s studio bringing with him a freshly painted piece depicting the two of them together. By 1984, they were inseparable.


Each man played Muse to the other. Warhol was the father figure who’d already achieved fame and success, with Basquiat helping to enhance a career that had begun to diminish slightly. Basquiat was just beginning his own career and Warhol provided the boost he needed to take his work and success to higher levels.


Warhol and Basquiat fueled each other to produce new works and push their individual creative boundaries. For a time, each filled the needs of the other.


But then came a falling out. The two parted ways and never had the opportunity to reconcile. Shortly after, there was a tragedy. In 1987, Warhol died unexpectedly from a routine gall bladder surgery.  This sent Basquiat into a tailspin. Not long after Warhol’s death, Basquiat would die as well, his death the result of a heroin overdose.

Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946) Muse to Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986)

Alfred Stieglitz, born in New Jersey to Jewish-American parents, studied engineering in Germany, but embraced photographic craftsmanship with enthusiasm. He acquired a camera at an early age, shot extensively, showed his work, wrote for photography publications, and won numerous competitions. He spent years working to make photography a recognized and accepted art form.


In 1890, when he returned to the United States, he opened Gallery 291 in New York City. In addition to photography, Stieglitz had great interest in American abstract art.


Stieglitz saw drawings by Georgia O’Keeffe before meeting her, and he was instantly taken by the work. He immediately began planning to exhibit her work in his gallery at a time when few female artists were invited to show in professional galleries. The two began writing and in 1917, O’Keeffe moved to New York. She and Stieglitz developed a relationship – both professional and romantic – and they were married in 1924.


It was in New York that O’Keeffe was introduced to artists, writers, and critics, and officially began her life-long career. As a Muse to O’Keeffe, Stieglitz motivated her to work tirelessly, creating the abstract flower and landscape works for which she is best known. O’Keeffe in turn acted as a Muse to Stieglitz, prompting him to create a series of nude photographs with O’Keeffe as his subject.


In 1929, O’Keeffe visited a friend in New Mexico and was so taken by the area that she began spending part of each year living and working there. During this time, the couple moved into a more open marriage. In 1946, after Stieglitz’ death from a heart attack, O’Keeffe permanently moved to the Northern New Mexico town of Abiquiu.

Dolores Olmedo

Dolores Olmedo (1908 -2002) Muse to Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

Dolores Olmedo’s small stature may have given an impression of frailty she did not possess. Described as “combative” and “stubborn,” Olmedo was known for the strength of her commitment to the preservation and protection of the arts.


She was a successful businesswoman in Mexico and a model for the artist Diego Rivera, whom she met when just a schoolgirl. He was completing a series of murals in the Ministry of Education when he asked her mother if he could sketch her. The modeling sessions evolved into Olmedo posing nude, and the relationship deepened into a lifelong friendship.


Rivera was born into a well-to-do family, enabling him to receive a quality education. He attended art school at the age of 10 and studied in Europe when he grew older. His work abroad allowed him to develop his painting skills, while also introducing him to politics that would inform his work and outlook for the remainder of his life.


After Rivera married Frida Kahlo, Olmedo made it clear she was not fond of her. Olmedo was uncomfortable with Kahlo’s  political affiliation as a communist. The women never became friends.


When Olmedo established a museum on her hacienda, Diego asked her to accept 25 of Kahlo’s works, along with 137 by Rivera. Olmedo acquiesced to the request although she believed Kahlo never would have become famous had she not married Rivera. Olmedo continued to collect Rivera’s works and became his benefactor late in his life. Her lifelong ambition to collect and preserve important works of art was realized when her Museo Dolores Olmedo was proclaimed a success.

Alma Mahler

Alma Mahler (1879-1964) Muse to Oskar Kokoschka (1886-1980)

Alma Mahler Gropius Werfel lived life with such fervor that she continued to inspire artists even after her death. In 1965, song writer Tom Lehrer happened to see the “juiciest, spiciest, raciest obituary that has ever been my pleasure to read.” It was a death notice about Mahler, and the details within it motivated Lehrer to write a song about her life, The Loveliest Girl in Vienna.


Mahler was born in Vienna, the daughter of a landscape painter and a singer. She was drawn to the arts from an early age, and spent hours at her father’s studio. She was musically active and encouraged to pursue studies in piano, composition and literature. Mahler was surrounded by artists who frequently visited the family’s home, and she attracted the eye of many of them.


… once you pick her on your antenna, you really get lost in her spell …


“The loveliest girl in Vienna” took many lovers throughout her lifetime, but she only married three: composer Gustav Mahler; architect and founder of the Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius; and writer Franz Werfel. Men were fascinated by Alma Mahler.


… which of your magical wands got you Gustav and Walter and Franz? ...


A liaison with Mahler inspired painter Oskar Kokoschka to create “The Tempest” (also called “Bride of the Wind”), a passionate depiction of two lovers entangled in a sea of sheets. Their affair lasted four years for Mahler, but Kokoschka held onto that love. Kokoschka wrote Mahler love letters even after she married Gropius, and he continued to make paintings in her honor his entire life.


… The body that reached her “embalma” was one that knew how to live!

George Dureau

George Dureau (1930-2014) Muse to Robert Mapplethorpe (1946- 1989)

George Dureau and Robert Mapplethorpe shared several characteristics. They were physically attractive. Each was gay and both grew up Catholic. They were born in different cities, Dureau in New Orleans and Mapplethorpe in New York. Dureau was 15 years older than Mapplethorpe.


Dureau was larger than life and much loved in his home city of New Orleans. He fed, housed, and often slept with his models. His works were always biographical and often informed by classic Greek and Roman art. Dureau was a hero to the local art community, which celebrated his paintings, photography, and humanist personality.


Mapplethorpe had been living in New York City where he’d experimented with many different art forms before settling on photography. Mapplethorpe was driven by the desire for fame, but at the same time was struggling to survive. He was said to have turned to prostitution to make ends meet.


In 1977, Mapplethorpe first saw Dureau’s work in New York and he was so enamored with the images that he began making frequent trips to New Orleans to meet and visit with Dureau. Over time, the men developed a close relationship and Mapplethorpe acquired 39 photographs shot by Dureau.


Surprisingly, when Dureau’s compositions began appearing in Mapplethorpe’s works – slightly varied, with a colder and more commercial presentation – Dureau continued to act as a Muse to Mapplethorpe. “He saw my work…took out the humanist,” Dureau once said. In the end, however, Mapplethorpe acknowledged who had informed and influenced his body of work. While dying of AIDS, he was said to be viewing a photo created by his Muse, Dureau.

Dominique de Menil

Dominique de Menil (1908-1997) Muse to Max Ernst (1891-1976)

Dominique de Menil and her husband John supported the fine arts with a passion rarely seen. Their devotion began in France and continued when they came to the United States and ultimately to Houston. Oil brought the de Menils to Texas and in 1978, Dominique decided their personal collection would stay in Houston. The Menil Collection was born.


The de Menils met surrealist painter Max Ernst in France when they traveled to his studio one day early in their marriage. Throughout four decades the de Menils and Ernst maintained a close friendship and over that time, many of Ernst’s works were added to the de Menils’ collection. As many as 40 works are included: a mix of paintings, drawings, collages, prints, and sculptures.


Dominique and Ernst shared a chemistry, each delighting in the other’s company. As a curator of Ernst’s work and his long-time patron, Dominique served as his Muse, friend and confidant. Although Dominique acted as a Muse for others, Ernst stands out because he was one of the first artists with whom she connected. That connection lasted until his death in 1976. 

James Magee

James Magee (1946-  ) Muse to Annabel Livermore (mid-20th Century-  )

James Magee creates sculpture from iron and rust. He has been working on his largest piece for more than 25 years: a four-sided spiritual mound located about 100 miles outside of El Paso, Texas, where he lives. All of Magee’s works have a powerful presence.


Annabel Livermore emerged during the mid-20th Century. She is a painter born through the eyes and mind of Magee. Yet, although Magee is responsible for her birth, Livermore has developed her own soul and a dedicated vision.


Livermore’s modern, symbolists works combine softness with a political edge. She uses rich, passionate colors, thickly applied. Like Magee, Livermore is also a poet and often creates free-verse poems to accompany her works.


After these many years, Magee continues to inspire Annabel. She doesn’t make public appearances, preferring instead the solitude of the natural world. Magee explains, “She never attends her openings, but always sends me to the dinners.”

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