Over the centuries artists have gained inspiration through their fascination and adoration for their muses. Their paintings let the viewer gain an insight into their emotional conquests, their inner demons, and their fantasies.
Whilst a muse can drive the work of an artist, they can, at times, be a hindrance to the completion of works. This was particularly the case for the figurative artist Francis Bacon and his muse George Dyer.
Bacon is renowned for his emotionally charged and raw paintings, where his energy was focussed on depicting London’s Soho neighbourhood. Here he met George Dyer, who became a prominent part of Bacon’s life. Despite having numerous lovers in his lifetime, none of them made such a mark as Dyer. Their relationship was turbulent and fuelled by passion, but blurred by alcoholism and dependence on Dyer’s side.
The 1966 ‘Painting of George Dyer Talking’ is painted in a regal ruby red, Dyer irradiating nervous energy, vulnerable, curled up into a ball. The walls of the room are curved around Dyer who is in the centre of the room; Bacon’s world revolves around Dyer. When George tragically died of an overdose in 1971, Bacon still opened his exhibition only a couple of days after. But his grief and morning for Dyer was shown in the painting entitled ‘Triptych -August, 1972’ which comprises of three paintings strongly unified in colour and composition.
In the middle painting, Bacon and Dyer are passionately entwined, Dyer is the most damaged and fragmented of the bodies, his eyes shut, dead. Whilst the left panel is a portrait of Dyer, the right panel is a self-portrait of Bacon whose face is barely discernible due to distortion, and whose life seems to be leaking out of him, in a pink puddle on the floor.
Romantic love tends to be the most common connection between sitter and artist, however this is not always the case. Gainsborough, the 18th century English landscape and portrait painter was particularly fond of painting his two daughters, Mary and Margaret. He painted them throughout their childhood and adulthood, tutored them in painting and sent them to an exclusive boarding school in Chelsea. His pride and enjoyment in watching his daughters flourish undoubtedly influenced much of his art.
There are seven known paintings of his daughters, the most famous of which being ‘The Painter’s daughters chasing a Butterfly’ painted in the mid-1750s. Here it is clear that the innocence and fleeting enchantment of childhood, the endless wonder and curiosity with nature and the novelty of life charmed Gainsborough.
His subjects are a celebration of what Gainsborough saw to be beautiful and cherished. It could be said that Gainsborough’s approach to life is presented in his paintings of his daughters, for his daughters possess a young zest representative of his enthusiasm for socialising.
Gainsborough strongly felt the need to protect his daughters from what he perceived to be the faults of society. He wouldn’t allow their vanity to spoil them. His wariness in this respect is reflected in Margaret, the older daughter, who is shown to be holding back, yielding to her rather impatient younger sister. Margaret is quite happy to look rather than touch, aware that if she touches the butterfly’s delicate wings she may damage them. It could be argued that Gainsborough’s own wish to preserve the delicate and the beautiful comes through in this painting, and that he sees himself in both his daughters, the eagerness of Mary and the inspection and careful admiration of Margaret.