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Artist and model: professional secrets

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Fine art connoisseurs have always been impressed by the beautiful natures depicted in the paintings. Beautiful models posed for the artists. An immodest desire to look behind the scenes of the creative process and learn about the secrets of the relationship between painters and models is quite normal! We surely wonder how nudity was painted…

The whole world knows about them. In high poetry, they are called muses that inspire artists. While in real life, some consider these persons akin to strippers and prostitutes. But who were they really, these mysterious models? What was their job? And what was the actual relationship between the artist and his or her model?

The globally known models


He called her an old woman, but she was his first love. Picasso and Fernande Olivier, his muse and mistress, lived so poorly that they stole food from their neighbours. However, the fickle Picasso eventually fled from his ardent muse, after which she quickly found a replacement. Fernande Olivier died in 1966 in complete poverty.

Suzanne Valadon was a sitter for many artists, including Degas, and took care of the artist until the end of his days. The model’s son became a legendary artist, and at the same time a rowdy and incurable alcoholic. Well, after all, Suzanne herself left her husband and a comfortable life for a mediocre artist 18 years younger than her! And passion continued to rage: they were called the "Cursed Trinity", and their disputes about art included wild fights and throwing irons.

Alice Prin (Kiki), the first model of the world, fortune-teller, alcoholic and drug addict.

Alice Prin, aka Kiki, has posed for the most famous artists in the world since the age of 16 — Modigliani, Derain, Picasso. This sophisticated beauty was reputed to be the first model in the world. But Kiki ended badly. After World War II, they saw her high on drugs and alcohol intoxicated, barely moving her legs. At the end of her life, Alice (one would like to say — "in the wonderland") earned… with fortune-telling (Alice, cards!) and died at fifty.
Well, so far everything seems to confirm the initial thesis that models are frivolous persons who strive for a beautiful and carefree life. They take it as it comes, often get drunk and roll downhill.

However, people are diverse, and not all sitters become artists' mistresses or lead a vicious lifestyle. Moreover, not all artists incline their muse to carnal pleasures, and such cases are rather exceptions to the rule.

Wonderful image: who are you — a muse, a mistress, a fancy girl?

Artists paint from life. California, 1959

Imagine a crowd of people, and a lady among them, completely naked! Would you think this is absurd? But this is how sitters often work. They undress in front of a whole cohort of students who draw the nude
The nude is the genre focused on the aesthetic aspect of the naked human body. The term traces its origin to the Latin nudus (“naked, bare”) and is cognate with the French nudité (“nudity”). Read more
model. What is the situation like? Do they all drop their pencils, breathe heavily and are agitated? Not at all, the atmosphere is completely natural, the mood is working! This is an ordinary matter.

Each student of an art school draws a nude or, strictly speaking, a nude model during the learning process.

American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925—2008) and his model, 1951

Here is how one of the artists describes the process of working with a sitter:


"We were 16 to 17 years old, and a naked twenty-year-old beauty was in front of us, we had to gaze at her closely for two hours, studying every centimetre of her body for drawing. The girls from the class make fun of us — they see that we cannot concentrate, as we are normal guys. But already at the first lesson, I noticed a pattern: you see her, but you also see the white sheet in front of you. And you need to fill it with an image. The teacher will be back soon, but you still have nothing ready and you fail again and again. Your drawn figure is either too shifted to the edge of the sheet, or too large. It seems that the teacher will blow the sketch
A study is an exercise painting that helps the painter better understand the object he or she paints. It is simple and clear, like sample letters in a school student’s copybook. Rough and ready, not detailed, with every stroke being to the point, a study is a proven method of touching the world and making a catalogue of it. However, in art history, the status of the study is vague and open to interpretation. Despite its auxiliary role, a study is sometimes viewed as something far more significant than the finished piece. Then, within an impressive frame, it is placed on a museum wall.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
to smithereens, and this can be followed by expulsion from the art school. And again you start all over again. You place, check proportions, peer into shadows and reflexes. To give the effect of volume, you make the elbow more active and move the hip away. And soon you get into your work so deep that you forget that there is a naked woman in front of you. You only think about one thing — how to draw her as best as possible."

A herculean task!

University of Iowa students in their class, 1961

And what about the sitter herself? How does an ordinary woman feel — not a yum-yum girl, not a stripper — when she gets naked in front of many people or is alone with an artist in his studio?

Some imagine the relationship between the artist and his model, following the example of the scene from Titanic — naked Kate Winslet flirts cute, posing for DiCaprio, and then makes love to him. However, a professional model would quickly refute this delusion: "It takes 18 hours to create such a picture! During this time, Kate’s arms and legs would be numb, her stomach would rumble, and, finally, she would simply fall asleep from overwork. Very hot beauty!"

Therefore, posing is the model’s job, not an easy one. There is no time for erotic lust! The work is tough: they put you in the right position (in the usual sense), in which you need to remain for several hours without moving. They are allowed to stretch once every 45 minutes. Due to static, the spine hurts. And it hurts in any position, both sitting and standing. Some models break down and leave in the middle of the session. They are replaced swiftly.

Work on the The Rape of Persephone painting. Thomas Hart Benton and his apprentice, a student of the Institute of Arts, 1939

The poses in which the sitters are usually made to stay motionless (for several hours) are also not too comfortable — the Venus de Milo pose, with all weight on one leg, sitting, reclining… Sometimes they pose with animals. The models can also stand in an embrace with a horse! Although, more often than not, animals are drawn separately from the models; for this purpose artists go to the zoo and draw from nature.

In terms of moral barriers, it is certainly difficult for novice models. Usually the artists themselves help to cope with the situation. They come up with very different solutions! They can spill a can of paint to give the model time to relax, they can speak with such jokes that the laughing sitter forgets about her "indecent" appearance. Some even undress along with their model. There even was a case when the whole company of student artists got undressed in an art studio so that the model would not be embarrassed and feel calm.

The complicated novel

In such a creative work, there are situations when the artist and the model fall in love with each other, of course, then get married, and the artist’s model is no longer an outside sitter, but his own wife. The ladiesman Picasso had many affairs. For some models, this relationships became fatal. Thus, after the death of the great artist, Dora Maar got to an insane asylum, where she was treated with electric shock, and Marie Walter, who had a thing doing with Picasso at the same time as Dora and was 28 years younger than him, committed suicide after his death.

Dora Maar. She lost her mind after the death of Picasso.

Nevertheless, for most models and sitters, posing is not a romance, but exhausting work, which is also fraught with industrial injuries. For example, you can easily faint and fall from a high pedestal, especially if you stand on it for 10 hours in a row. It happens that sitters posing, just fall asleep. And then the students wake them up with shouts like: "Open your eyes, we need to draw them!" Therefore, in the life of a model there can always happen special events of all sorts: curiosities, fainting, broken ribs. This is such a hard work of the artist’s muse!