7 Iconic Films About Artists and Their Muses

The tumultuous, fascinating lives of artists and their muses lives on in film. By Kimberly Ong

Photo: Focus Features

Hubert de Givenchy had Audrey Hepburn. Andy Warhol had Edie Sedgwick. Alexander McQueen had Isabella Blow… The list of artists and their muses goes on. The relationship between the artist and his muse is at once visceral and complex, private yet tumultuous. And because of its intensity, they are often fraught with danger.

Paul Thomas Anderson’s sensuous new fashion drama, “Phantom Thread”—met with raving reviews and four BFA nominationsexplores and breaks down this relationship. It is at once a lavish romance story as it is a haunting psychological thriller: The film ties these possibilities together in one seamless thread. What’s more, with Kenzo’s new video campaign, we see that the muse is primed for a comeback.

The figures behind some of modern memory’s most stunning masterpieces have their own great story to tell, and luckily for us, we’ve got a whole slew of films that explore the topic. Here’s a list of films that are worth watching, from biopics to pure fiction.

Related article: Iconic Beauty And Style From The Most Fashionable Films

1. Factory Girl (2006)

edie sedgewick, andy warhol

Photo: Burt Glinn/Magnum Photos, The Weinstein Company

Edie Sedgwick and pop art legend Andy Warhol were known as one of the greatest loves of the 1960s. It was a period fraught with drama, drugs… and lots of black tights.

“He was probably in love with Edie,” future superstar Viva later theorised. “A sexless kind of love, but he would take up your whole life so you had no time for any other man.” When Edie had taken up with Bob Dylan, Warhol was said to have been devastated.

The 2006 biopic depicts this relationship, and stars Sienna Miller as muse, Hayden Christensen as Bob Dylan, and Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol.

2. Belle Du Jour (1967)

Photo: Paris Film Productions

Though technically not a film about an artist and his muse himself, it is hard not to include Yves Saint Laurent’s longtime muse, Catherine Deneuve, in the picture. This iconic film oozes with style alone, with the French couturier having created the whole collection of dresses in the movie specifically for Deneuve.

Directed by Luis Buñuel, it tells the story of a young woman (Catherine Deneuve) who spends her midweek afternoons as a high-class prostitute while her husband is at work.

Related article: 10 Iconic French Movies You Need To Screen Before You Turn 30

3. La Belle Noiseuse/ ‘The Beautiful Troublemaker’ (1991)

Photo: Pierre Grise Productions

One of master French director Jacques Rivettes’s most acclaimed works, the film is an unconventional exploration of the creative process of an artist (Edouard Frenhofer by Michel Piccoli) who finds new inspiration through a young model (Emmanuelle Beart), despite the indignation from his wife (Jane Birkin).

The 240-minute film is well worth the experience alone. In fact, Roger Ebert has gone as far to say that “La Belle Noiseuse” is the best film he has ever seen about the physical creation of art, and the painful bond between artist and muse.

4. Girl With A Pearl Earring (2003)

Photo: UK Film Council

Just who is the enigmatic girl in the portrait, Girl With A Pearl Earring? This film, adapted by Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel of the same name, addresses just that. We meet the muse behind Johannes Vermeer’s masterpiece — a passive, sensual housemaid played by Scarlett Johansson, and her relationship with the painter.

As with the lush paintings of Vemeer, the film, directed by Peter Webber, lends itself well-deserved nods for both art direction and cinematography, having received three Oscar nominations in those categories.

5. Surviving Picasso (1996)

Photo: Sotheby’s/ Merchant Ivory Productions

There were many women in Picasso’s life, many of which were more than just models. The 1996 biopic Surviving Picasso portrays Picasso’s life through the eyes of his muse and lover Francoise Gilot, who was 22 when her affair with the 62 year old artist begun.

They were together for 10 years and she bore him two children before finally leaving after, frustrated by his abusive nature and countless affairs.

The film stars Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso, and Natasha McElhone as Francoise Gilot.

6. Shakespeare in Love (1998)

Photo: AP

Most seem to look past this, but William Shakespeare was young once too. Rich, funny, and deeply poignant, Shakespeare in Love is a speculative biopic that depicts young Shakespeare’s relationship with fictional love interest Lady Viola (Gwynelth Paltrow), who inspired him to write what can be said to be the greatest love story of all time.

The film clinched seven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Writing, Art Direction, and Costume Design.

7. Camille Claudel (1988)

Photo: Gaumont

The lesser known, and tragic lover of sculptor Rodin, Camille Claudel worked as an assistant to Rodin before he was quickly entranced by her talents. What ensued was a tumultuous affair that left Claudel institutionalized in an asylum for the next 30 years.

Before that, the period inspired them both, with Rodin modelling several portraits of the sculptress. Griselda Pollock said Claudel was “a major force in the experimental and transformative partnership that occurred artistically in Rodin’s studio.”

This film beautifully explores her 15 year old relationship with Rodin before she descended into madness. It went on to win five Cesars (the french equivalent of Oscars).

Related article: 10 Of The Best Fashion Documentaries

Phantom Thread is set to be released in local theaters from 25 January onwards.


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