Meet the muses

For hundreds of years, artists have turned to the same models again and again. These ‘muses’ have traditionally existed in the shadows, while the artist has claimed all the credit. However, it is the muses themselves who take centre stage in our new exhibition, ‘Dina Razin: Reclaiming the Muse’.

Featuring twenty of Dina Razin’s illustrations for Ruth Millington’s new book, Muse, the exhibition brings to life the people behind some of the world’s greatest pieces of art. To give you a flavour of what our exhibition is all about, let’s meet two of them.

Image of Dora Maar

Dora Maar by Dina Razin

Surrealist artist Dora Maar met Pablo Picasso in 1935 and became his lover and muse, introducing him to black and white photography and her left-wing politics. Picasso’s most famous portrait of Dora is The Weeping Woman, in which she is shown clutching a handkerchief to her mouth and crying uncontrollably.

The Weeping Woman by Picasso

The Weeping Woman by Picasso

As Ruth Millington writes in Muse, the painting has often been interpreted as a comment on Dora Maar’s inner struggles: “…The Weeping Woman is read as a reflection of their problematic relationship, and Picasso’s view of Maar as tormented and anxious, a state which he increasingly induced.” However, Dora did not want the painting to be viewed in this way.

So, what does the painting actually mean? As Ruth points out, if you look carefully, you can see war planes reflected in Dora’s eyes. Rather than looking inward, in this painting Dora is directing her grief outward. In 1937, Nazi Germany bombed the Spanish town of Guernica, killing hundreds of civilians. Picasso’s powerful painting Guernica also features the same weeping woman, holding a dead child. Dora Maar may have suffered emotionally during her relationship with Picasso, but in The Weeping Woman she is shedding tears for the victims of fascism.

Image of Elizabeth Siddal.

Elizabeth Siddal by Dina Razin

Lizzie Siddal’s face appears in many Pre-Raphaelite paintings, most famously in Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Lizzie is often viewed as a tragic figure, particularly because of her troubled marriage to Rossetti and her early death from a laudanum overdose.

Modelling could be a trial in itself; while posing for Ophelia, Lizzie had to lie in a bath full of water over a period of four months and, on one occasion, became very ill as a result.

Ophelia, 1851, by John Everett Millais

Ophelia, 1851, by John Everett Millais

However, Lizzie should not be regarded simply as a victim. She was a talented artist and poet herself and, as Ruth Millington points out, she carved out her role with the Pre-Raphaelites to further her own career: “taking up the position of muse allowed Siddal a significant role at the heart of an artistic community, which she longed to join, and from which she would otherwise have been excluded. Aspiring to be a professional artist, modelling was perhaps the clearest pathway through which Siddal could collaborate with, learn from and make art with her male counterparts.”

You can take a deep dive into the life of these muses and others like them by visiting ‘Dina Razin: Reclaiming the Muse’ today. The exhibition runs until 10 February 2023 in the art gallery on second floor of the house.

You can buy Ruth Millington’s book, Muse, from our gift shop and prints of Dina Razin’s artwork can be ordered from the artist by filling in an order form in the gift shop.

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