It’s time to invert the idea of the muse.
The history of art is full of women who served as muses to male artists. Many of these women were dynamic artists in their own right, but we often don’t hear as much about their achievements—until today.
On April 24th, National Geographic premiered the new season of Genius: Picasso. Undoubtedly, he was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and many of the women who filled his life and inspired his work were brilliant creatives themselves.
Now, it’s time to flip this idea of the muse on its head. We partnered with National Geographic to ask Society6 artists Lellopepper, BFGF and, Tallulah Fontaine to create a piece of original artwork inspired by the life and work of his muses, thus elevating and celebrating their legacy through the female gaze. Here, we chat with illustrator Tallulah Fontaine about Françoise Gilot and her experience with the concept of the muse:
Tallulah Fontaine is an illustrator originally from Edmonton, Alberta. To celebrate Genius: Picasso, she focused on Françoise Gilot—a painter, critic and author who, despite her 10 year relationship with him, was able to move on to an illustrious life of her own. Not only does Gilot have degrees in Literature and Philosophy plus a well-respected writing and painting career, she was also awarded the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur in 1990—the highest French award for civil merits. She is still living and working in New York City and her paintings continue to be exhibited around the world.
Tallulah’s illustration references the French folktale of Bluebeard and his wives.
What were some of your favorite things you learned about your particular muse, Françoise Gilot?
I like that she left him in order to pursue her own life and career. She is smart, self-assured and talks about that period together with an intense clarity and unwillingness to be only defined by her connection to him—she has continued to work even now that she is in her 90’s. I think at this point she’s made something like 6,000 paintings and drawings and she eventually went on to marry the man who developed the first polio vaccine! Personally, I think that’s the more interesting match.
Do you think a woman can serve as a male artist’s muse in a way that is empowering instead of objectifying?
I definitely think there is the potential for men to make great art inspired by the powerful, awesome women in their lives. I think if we break down the type of structure where a male artist has so much power and privilege, women can occupy much more than a background role.
Her Final Piece:
In that same vein, how can male artists celebrate the feminine in a way that attempts to capture its many facets in a respectful and celebratory way?
By making work that is more collaborative. Really getting to know the woman behind the inspiration. Taking the time to see all the things that make her unique and more than just an object of desire.
What is it about the female gaze that is able to elevate subjects instead of reducing them to their sexuality or their gender?
I have a bit of trouble with the idea of the female gaze. because I feel that it reduces women to just one eye when we have so many different perspectives.
Personally, women are everything to me. My past, present and future is shaped by the women I have known and will know. These women often come up as inspiration in my work. I can only hope that I do my part to represent them in an honest and uplifting way.