Three women who inspired great works of art
1. Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci (b. 1453; d. 1476)
Introduced to the nobility and painters of Renais. sance Florence by her husband Marco Vespucci (cousin of the famed explorer Amerigo Vespucci), La Bella Simonetta was renowned as the most beautiful woman in the city; many of Florence's leading men became besotted with her.
Botticelli used her image in almost all of his work, painting her as the Virgin Mary, Athena and Venus (pictured). She died of tuberculosis at age 22 the entire city was said to have mourned, with thousands attending her funeral, and Botticelli continued to paint women whose features resembled hers. He requested to be buried at her feet in the Chiesa d'ognissanti, the Vespucci family church, where their graves remain to this day.
2. Hendrickje Stoffels (b. 1626; d. 1663)
Stoffels moved to Amsterdam in 1647 after her father's death and mother's remarriage forced her out of the family home. She took a post as housekeeper to Rembrandt, then at the pinnacle of his fame yet still grieving after his wife's death four years earlier. They became lovers, and she modelled for several portraits by the Dutch master After becomingpregnant by Rembrandt in 1654, Hendrickje was called before the Reformed Church Council to defend their common-law marriage: she was denounced for living like a whore' and excommunicated. They remained together for the next nine years, until she died during a plague epidemic.
3. Dora Maar (b. 1907: d., 1997)
Pablo Picasso had a string of muses, mistresses and lovers throughout his long career. Yet, there are few who compare, in terms of significance and influence, to Dora Maar. Her relationship with Picasso lasted over a decade, and during this time she was a source of inspiration, an archivist, and assistant, and later a worthy opponent when their relationship soured.
In 1936 the poet Paul Eluard introduced Maar, a successful surrealist photographer and painter, to his friend Pablo Picasso. Entranced by both her self mutilation (she cut her fingers at the table when they met and sad beauty (she became his weeping woman), he embarked on a fierce 10-year love affair with her. Maar served as a model for many of his masterworks, spurring him on politically and documenting his creation of Guernica with her photograph After he left her for the young painter Francoise Gilot in 1944, Maar found solace in Roman Catholicism ('After Picasso, God,' she wrote), and was admitted into a psychiatric hospital, undergoing shock therapy, and later analysis, but remained obsessed with their passionate relationship. She died reclusive and p never having sold the artworks Picasso gave her which could have garnered her a fortune.
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French impressionist painter Claude Monet (b. 14 November 1840; d. 5 December 1926), leader and foremost practitioner of the impressionist school, was born in Paris but moved to Le Havre; his talents were first spotted when, as a boy, he would sell charcoal caricatures on the streets.
At 16 he was put in touch with the landscape paint Eugene Boudin, who quickly became the young artist's mentor, teaching him the art of oil painting and, crucially, instilling in the teenager the importance of painting directly from nature and en plein (outdoors).
Monet moved to Paris in 1859, enrolling in one of the great Parisian art academies. Yet he soon became disillusioned with the traditional style being taught, so after a brief stint in the army, he entered the studio of Charles Gleyre, where he and Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Jean Bazille would define impressionism.
After several unsuccessful attempts to paint traditionally led to financial hardship, Monet threw himself into the seine in a failed suicide attempt in 1868. A newspaper article reviewing Monet's Impression, Sunrise (1872) which was exhibited in an 1874 group show slated the avant-garde style with the term “Impressionists" and the new movement was christened.
By the late 1880s Monet was finding a wide audience appreciative of his heavy brushstrokes and nameless colour patches. Cézanne himself claimed that Monet had "the most prodigious eye since painting began”.
A one-man exhibition organised by art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel sparked financial success at last for Monet. Having moved in 1883 to a beautiful country house in Giverny, from 1899 he worked almost exclusively on painting the water lilies that floated on the pond his gardens. Over the next two decades his health deteriorated as he slowly lost his sight, and he succumbed to lung cancer in 1926.
Source: The Observer Book of ART by editor Carl Wilkinson, p. 50