Written by Chelsea Daniels
Muse noun: a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.
synonyms: inspiration, creative influence, stimulus, stimulation; rare afflatus
"the poet's muse"
Many creative men throughout history owe their success to a muse. In many cases, it’s a woman who can be credited for the inspiration behind some of history’s greatest works of art or lyrical masterpieces.
One thing the dictionary definition leaves out, however, is that a muse is usually fucked up.
Their own careers were often suffocated under the men they’d provide stimulation to, in and out of the bed sheets. Their tragic lives and sometimes early demise are indicative of the enormous amount of energy they gave these men - who oftentimes, in the words of Pablo Picasso, treated them like “goddesses or doormats”. Generally the latter.
Take Emilie Louise Flöge.
A successful woman in her own right, the fashion designer’s career is often overshadowed by her decades-long relationship with Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt. While you may not recognise her name you’ll certainly recognise the face of the ‘woman in gold’. The most famous depiction, Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, hangs in Vienna’s Belvedere museum. The pair met when Emilie was barely 18 years old. Klimt was 12 years her senior. By all accounts, they were inseparable. However, they were never - what we would call nowadays - ‘Facebook official’.
One unconfirmed account suggests Emilie tried to kill herself by overdosing on sleeping pills upon learning Klimt proposed to Viennese composer Alma Schindler, dubbed at the time as ‘the most beautiful girl in Vienna’. It’s also alleged Klimt could’ve fathered at least 14 children out of wedlock. Naughty Gustav. Imagine how an infatuated Emilie might’ve felt. If the self-help book ‘He’s Not That Into You’ were published in the early 1900s, a copy would’ve surely adorned Emilie’s bookshelf.
Little is known about Emilie’s later years. She continued work as a fashion designer until 1938 when her business suffered from the loss of Jewish customers as a result of a man named Adolf not being particularly fond of them.
She died on 26 May, 1952 at the age of 78. Her cause of death is unknown.
Despite Klimt never committing to Emilie, their connection was undeniable. On his deathbed in 1918, he reportedly uttered the words: “Bring me Emilie”. Better late than never, I guess?
Another woman whose career was stifled under the weight of her male companion’s success is a woman who called herself Dora Maar.
Picasso once said of his long-time muse and private mistress “I could never see her, never imagine her, except crying.”
By the mid-1930s, French photographer, born Henriette Theodora Markovitch, made a name for herself as a surrealist. After she met Picasso in 1935, however; her career would halt and she would forever be known as La Femme qui pleure - the ‘Weeping Woman’.
There’s no wonder why she was always in a strop…
Picasso traded her in for the much younger model in 1943, painter Françoise Gilot who he’d have two children with. It was then when Maar suffered a complete mental collapse, something which reportedly lead to her receiving electric shock therapy. Nothing a little Netflix and ice cream couldn’t fix nowadays, eh? Because online streaming wasn’t available, she instead turned to religion and became a recluse for the remainder of her life until her death at age 89. Only after her death would her earlier work be widely recognised.
"After Picasso," she famously said, "only God."
Skip a couple of decades and we get to perhaps the most fucked up muse of all. So fucked up, she influenced not one, but two artists.
Enter Edie Sedgwick - one of Hollywood’s first ‘It Girls’.
She grew up in a wealthy family - her father a renowned asshole. It’s said when Edie walked in on him having sex with someone that wasn’t her mother, he slapped her and called for a doctor to administer tranquillisers so she’d forget about it. It’s something she’d later credit as the beginning of her relationship with drugs.
In 1962 and 19 years old, Edie was admitted to a psychiatric institution due to years battling anorexia. The next year she’d study sculpture in Cambridge and mingle with elite bohemian socialites. Two of her older brothers would die within 18 months of each other - one in a motorcycle accident, the other by suicide.
Her 21st birthday saw her move to New York City with the help of some dosh from her grandmother. It’s here where she’d meet the man who would arguably ruin it. She met Andy Warhol at a party in a famous producer’s loft. It’s rumoured later that night Andy said to a friend, “Oh, I’d sure love to work with her I’ve never seen a girl with so many problems.” He was perceptive.
Warhol invited the vivacious young Edie to what was known as ‘The Factory’, a playground for everyone from drug addicts to debutantes.
From here, Edie would end up in at least ten of his movies which, although weren’t commercially successful at the time, now have a cult following. One was aptly titled “Poor Little Rich Girl”. It chronicles a day in the life of Edie: waking up, ordering coffee and orange juice, smoking cigarettes and marijuana, exercising, taking pills and putting on makeup. (If you don’t wish this was your daily – then you’re lying).
She would later say: “My introduction to heavy drugs came through the Factory… I was a good target for the scene; I blossomed into a healthy young drug addict.”
This relationship between artist and muse would last less than a year.
Little is known about what caused the fallout. Some say it was Edie’s budding infatuation with a singer-songwriter by the name of Bob Dylan. Don’t know if you’ve heard of him.
However, Truman Capote famously summed up the breakup like this: "Andy Warhol would like to have been Edie Sedgwick. He would like to have been a charming, well-born debutante from Boston. He would like to have been anybody except Andy Warhol.”
Basically, although he was a genius, a pioneer of the pop art movement even, he was a bit of an obnoxious dickhead.
Post-Factory, Edie hung out with rumoured lover Bob Dylan, who adamantly denies anything ever happened with the socialite. Nevertheless, there’s been speculation ever since that Dylan’s hits “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat,” “Just Like a Woman, ” and “Like a Rolling Stone” were all about Sedgwick.
Edie would be in and out of psychiatric wards for the rest of her short life.
Once a famed New York socialite and actress –she’d die of a drug overdose aged 28.
Yet, she must’ve known all along she was bound to die young. On being told by a palm reader that she had a very short life line she replied, “it’s okay. I know.”
What have we learnt from these fucked up females?
Beyond doubt, there’s beauty behind being damaged. Klimt, Picasso and Warhol all saw it.
While these women were crippled by drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness and damaging childhoods - their spirit, veracity and naivety inspired some of history’s most acclaimed artists. In return, they were discarded, left to end their lives not knowing the influence they would have in decades to come.
Perhaps some words from perhaps one of the most damaged women of all time can sum it up for us.
“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it's better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” - Marilyn Monroe