Format Hardcover
Publication Date 05/03/22
ISBN 9781639361557
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 272

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Uncovering the Hidden Figures Behind Art History's Masterpieces

Ruth Millington

The fascinating true stories of thirty incredible muses—and their role in some of art history's most well-known masterpieces.

We instantly recognize many of their faces from the world's most iconic artworks—but just who was Picasso's 'Weeping Woman'? Or the burglar in Francis Bacon's oeuvre? Why was Grace Jones covered in graffiti? Far from posing silently, muses have brought emotional support, intellectual energy, career-changing creativity, and practical help to artists. However, the perception of the muse is that of a passive, powerless model (usually young, attractive, and female) at the mercy of an influential and older male artist. Could this impression be incorrect and unfair? Is this trope a romanticized myth? Have people embraced, even sought, the status of muse? Most importantly, where would artists be without them? In Muse, Ruth Millington's goal is to re-assess and re-claim that word in a celebratory narrative that takes ownership and demonstrates how outdated the common perception of that word is.

Muse also explores the idea of ‘muse’ in a different way and includes performance artists and celebrities, iconic figures we perhaps haven’t considered before as muses, such as Tilda Swinton and Grace Jones. By delving into the real-life relationships that models have held with the artists who immortalized them, it will expose the influential and active part they have played in contributing to the artwork they inspired, and explore the various ways people have subverted stereotypical ‘muse’ roles.

From job supervisors to homeless men in Harlem, Muse will reveal the unexpected, overlooked, and forgotten models of art history. Through the stories of thirty remarkable lives, from performing muses to muses who have been turned into messages, this book will deconstruct reductive stereotypes of the muse, and reframe it as a momentous and empowered agent of art history.


Ruth Millington is an art historian, critic and author, specialising in modern and contemporary art. She has written for various publications, including The i newspaper, Sunday Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sorbet Magazine and BBC Online. She has been featured as an art expert on TV and radio, including BBC Breakfast, Sky Arts and ITV News.

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Endorsements & Reviews

"Ruth Millington's Muse is an essential guide to the inspirational women and men who have shaped art over the centuries. Muse sheds new and persuasive light on a diverse array of models' stories - their lives, hopes and daring actions - restoring their voices in ways that change our perceptions of who they were, and who we are today as a result." Sophie Haydock, author of The Flames
“’Muse’ by Ruth Millington is a fascinating book that aims, and one could even say succeeds, to establish a new status for the muse in art history.” DailyArt Magazine
“This book not only sheds light on a relatively unchartered area of art history but also serves as a feminist crusade.” Jenny Perry, art historian and artist
“Ruth Millington’s Muse adds another dimension…taking the women (and nine men) on the canvas as her subject…successfully fleshing out the lives behind some of art history’s most famous faces.” Hall W. Rockefeller Hyperallergic
“A provocative tome.” ARTnews
"This beautifully illustrated book shines a new light on what constitutes a muse and how important they are to an artist's practice. Enlightening." Tabish Khan, art critic
“A brilliant book absolutely crammed with surprising stories. Muse flips the easel and brings the models and inspirations of famous works themselves into the spotlight, scraping away old coatings of myth, cliché and ignorance to reveal the true tales of these overlooked figures, and their place of power in the history of art. An essential read that should be on every bookshelf.” Edward Brooke-Hitching, author of The Madman’s Gallery
“A rich and detailed unravelling of the romanticised myth of the muse. Ruth Millington nimbly returns agency to the pictured people of art history and in doing so reveals their ambitions, creativity and far-reaching influence.” Chloë Ashby, author of Wet Paint
“Packed with tales of enchanting lives, this book puts so many forgotten and so often unnamed figures into the spotlight. Telling their stories - in ways I like to think is on their terms - Ruth Millington sheds light on so many figures we know by image, but so often not by name. An exhilarating and fascinating insight into many of the people who have shaped our culture, and who have redefined what we think and know of as 'muse'.” Katy Hessel, art historian and author of The Story of Art without Men
“Art historian Millington explodes the entrenched stereotype ‘of a young, attractive, female muse, existing at the mercy of an influential, older male artist’ in this fascinating revisionist debut. This brilliantly illuminates how the act of portraiture is a two-way street.” Publishers Weekly