“It is always the dress, it is never, never the girl,” the world’s first supermodel, Lisa Fonssagrives, famously told Time magazine in 1949. But when it came to Fonssagrives, muse to every important photographer of her generation (including the legendary Horst P. Horst, whose most iconic photographs rely on Fonssagrives as his sitter) it most certainly was the girl. And isn’t it always?
Since the Italian Renaissance, when Raphael modeled his Madonna paintings from a Sienese baker’s daughter, to 20th-century pairings like Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick, artists have fallen beneath the spell of beautiful women—and none have had more allure than Fonssagrives. After meeting Horst in the 1930s on her first fashion assignment—test shots for Paris Vogue—she became his go-to model and went on to inspire the biggest names of her era, including pairings with Erwin Blumenfeld, Richard Avedon, and Man Ray, rivaled only by her bond with her husband, photographer Irving Penn. Here’s a look at other muses who have done the same:
Mario Sorrenti and Kate Moss:
“Pretty much all the shoots I do with Kate are memorable,” Sorrenti said of his former girlfriend, supermodel Kate Moss—and perhaps the most memorable was their shoot for Calvin Klein’s Obsession campaign in 1993. At ages 19 and 21, respectively, Moss and Sorrenti were at the start of their careers, much like Horst and Fonssagrives. “To be sent off to a tropical island alone with your girlfriend and told to take intimate photos ... was a dream come true.”
Man Ray and Lee Miller:
Theirs has been called a Surrealist love story (though it eventually turned to friendship) but from the moment Man Ray met Lee Miller, the two were forever bound. With a letter of introduction from Edward Steichen, actress and model Miller surprised Man Ray at a Paris café to ask to become his pupil. “I’m leaving for a holiday in Biarritz,” Ray had answered. “So am I,” she replied. What transpired, in addition to their love affair, became some of the most important work of their respective careers.
Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe:
For over 30 years, Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe exchanged love letters (some 25,000 pages), which chart the course as the legendary photographer wooed a painter who would eventually become his muse. “How I wanted to photograph you — the hands — the mouth — & eyes — & the enveloped in black body — the touch of white — & the throat — but I didn't want to break into your time —” he once wrote to O’Keeffe.
Edouard Manet and Victorine Meurent:
Two of Edouard Manet’s most iconic paintings, Olympia and Le Déjeuner sur l’Herbe, feature his muse Victorine Meurent, who he first spotted as she was walking down a street in Paris carrying a guitar. The redheaded artist, model, and musician went on to appear in a total of nine of his paintings—some of his most controversial—and unlike other models of the time, Victorine became known by name.
Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith:
“I imagined myself as Frida to Diego, both muse and maker. I dreamed of meeting an artist to love and support and work with side by side,” Patti Smith wrote in Just Kids, her memoir of a life alongside artist, lover, and best friend Robert Mapplethorpe—with whom her muse aspirations became reality. For the 22 years since the two kindred-spirit, New York City misfits met in 1967 until Mapplethorpe’s death in ’89, Smith was his muse—and he was hers.
David Bailey and Jean Shrimpton
“She was magic,” fashion photographer David Bailey said of Jean Shrimpton, the model he met on a cornflakes photoshoot in 1960 and fell in love with, immediately, leaving his wife for the 18-year-old model. Although both were in early stages of their careers at the time (notice the trend?), together they began a path to stardom. “In a way she was the cheapest model in the world — you only needed to shoot half a roll of film and then you had it,” Bailey said. Of the photographer, Shrimpton is quoted: “I owe everything that I have since become as a model and as a woman to him. He taught me that I must have a mind as well as a body.” [Hear Bailey speak of his relationship with Shrimpton in the interview, pictured.]
May 4–8, 2018, Park Avenue Armory