We know them without really knowing them. Are they only models, or are they muses? Passive, powerless figure or participative and instrumental? Muses, a book launched in mid-2022, looks at those figures and goes behind the paint or the surface of the artwork, revealing the true stories of the muses. Deep dive into the art history and the roles played by the figure depicted in some of the most well-known and significant artworks. This book deconstructs myths surrounding muses, exposing the actual relationship, sometimes joyful, sometimes tragic of the muses, but empowering them to regain their place in art history, their story and much more.
Also, if you haven’t read the book (YET!), we invite you to reflect on these questions:
* How would you describe a muse?
* What place do muses play in art history?
* Has the way we see and perceive muse changed in the past couple of years?
Review of the book by evlyne Laurin
I am always on the lookout for new books that will captivate my interest and feed my insatiable desire to discover more fun facts about art history, the opportunity to go behind the scene to expose what is rarely known. While the internet is an excellent place to find these books, one of my all-time favourite spots is the museum shop. I won’t do an exposé here on how I could spend countless hours in a good museum bookshop, how I just want to buy soooo much stuff but also how many books I have discovered have come from one of my many trips to a museum’s shops. So, this story starts on a cold day, at the end of October, while I was in Toronto to visit their art fair and when I couldn’t leave the town without a stop to see Denyse Thomaso’s exhibition at the AGO. While I was roaming in the shop, looking at everything and nothing, one book captured my eyes – MUSES. What could this book be about, and would I learn something – we all know that the identity of the girl with a pearl earring will remain a secret, that what was referred to for a very long time as The Woman in Gold from Klimt was a Jewish socialite named Adele Bloch-Bauer, that Picasso painted the ladies in his life. But what if many other artworks had a lot more secrets hidden? And truth be told, it is hard to stop reading Muses; it is beautifully written, and the stories are captivating. It reveals what has been distorted, forgotten, swept under the rug, ignored or what has become the art history version of an urban legend.
One of the first things I quickly realized is that while many female art historians have called for cancelling the word muse, Millington offers a nuanced position where the word is needed but also provides opportunities for dialogues and refreshing the perspective on the word, the role, and the association to the word muse. The stories range from female and male muses, many ”self” muses, and they depart far from the idea of passive, exploited only there for their look, muse. The book exposes stories where the muses are participative, investigator, real collaborators of their own volition, committed to the creative process, and writing their own part of the stories.
This book made me discover many artists and more muses but reframed the narrative I learned during art history courses. It brings muses to a contemporary area where muses should be acknowledged, recognized and considered equal in the creative process. From Beyoncé and Elizabeth Siddall ( Millais’ Ophelia) to George Dyer and many more, this book reclaims their stories. I have hope after reading Muses, I hope that we will know the stories behind the collaboration, that we will let go of outdated narrative and reductive ideas, and that we will be increasingly exposed to diversity in all its form, shape, colour and fashion, and that we will give them credit and assumed all the stories.
As usual, we are pleased to give away five copies of Muses by Ruth Millington, illustrated by Dina Razin. Don’t miss your chance to win a FREE (excellent and fun to read) book – that could be yours right on time for the Holidays!
Our giveaway is easy to enter! Comment and like our Instagram post to enter it. We also invite you to follow us on Instagram @artdomains, the author @millington_ruth and the publisher @pegasus_books for additional chances to win! Even better, tell us why you want to win this book, ask questions to the author and tag other people who might be interested in it! Let’s start a conversation! Finally, get a copy of your book at your local bookstore or in your favourite place to order books!
Don’t miss our Instagram Live on December 19th at Noon EST | 5 PM GMT – Ruth and evlyne will discuss muses, art history and much more.
And if you have a suggestion for us regarding the book club or even a book to suggest – email me, evlyne Laurin at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More about the author
Ruth Millington is an art historian, writer and critic. An art expert on radio and TV, she has appeared on BBC Breakfast, Woman’s Hour, ITV News, BBC WM Radio, Radio 4’s Today programme and Sky Arts.
Ruth’s writing has featured across national newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph, i newspaper, Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Daily Express. As a regular contributor to Art Uk, she has interviewed the likes of Chantal Joffe, Shani Rhys James and Desmond Morris. Working with museums and galleries, Ruth has written extended essays for exhibition catalogues on artists including Eric Tucker, Baltasar Lobo and Samin Ahmadzadeh. She writes, in particular, about women artists and gender in art history.
Learn more by visiting her website.