Women who inspire
London, Soho: Sue Tilley sits in the café "Maison Bertaux" and drinks a Diet Coke. She loves this part of the city, where one sits tightly packed on the sidewalk, close to the passers-by, who criss-cross this Saturday morning through London's fashionable district. No one is like the other, everyone is in a hurry. "I really enjoy watching people," she says, and smiles at the German art dealers at the next table. Sue Tilley is 51, works as a manager in a job center right around the corner, and by the way she is the best-known muse in England. In the early nineties, a friend introduced her to the ingenious but self-centered painter Lucian Freud. Fascinated by Sue's voluptuous body, he asked her to take her home as a model. Over a four-year period she stood before or after her work and on the weekends model, naked. In total, four pictures and a few etchings were made. The 1995 "Benefits Supervisor Sleeping" painting in May 2008 earned Christie's a record $ 33.6 million, the highest amount a living artist ever received for an image at auction. "Everyone thought I was just lounging on the sofa, which was very exhausting," she says, laughing.
The muses with goddess status became women of flesh and blood
In ancient Greece, it was still believed that artists needed the work of divine muses to achieve "that certain something". The Muses lived on Mount Helicon and "breathed in" their songs to the poets and musicians. In return, they were honored with poems and songs. So the inspiration thing was a fair trade between muse and man. Later, the muses lost their goddess status. The Muse became a woman of flesh and blood. You could touch, kiss, seduce and - far worse - disappoint, leave and betray. The most famous muse, the sculptor Camille Claudel, lover and pupil of Auguste Rodin, died of her love. The poet Sylvia Plath, married to the English writer Ted Hughes, took her own life out of lovesickness.
Sometimes they chatted. Sue Tilley and Lucian Freud. About his life. How he met Judy Garland once. About pop culture. "He likes that too, but a muse, I do not know, a muse should be interested in art and may have a crush on the artist, which I definitely was not."
But sometimes, it happens. Leonard Cohen fell in love when he saw Marianne for the first time, on this sunny spring morning in 1960. In a small grocery store on the Greek island of Hydra. A stunning moment. "The most beautiful woman I've ever seen in my life," he would say later. Marianne and her four-month-old son had just been left by her husband, the writer Axel Jensen. Leonard Cohen proved to be a patient comforter. "My approach to Leonard was, however, in slow motion," says Marianne Ihlen. For Marianne he was husband, friend, family. And it offered him peace, beauty, a cloud cuckoo's paradise, free of moral or intellectual pitfalls and entanglements. "You have freed me, you welcome me, I am more than a guest," Cohen wrote at that time. He could write with her, he could breathe with her; at this time he published five books, two novels and three volumes of poetry.
But Cohen's growing success as a poet and Marianne's growing jealousy led to the break: "I wanted to lock him up and swallow the key, so jealous I was," she says today. Leonard plunged into writing. When the two separated, he said goodbye, "It's time to be unhappy again." In 1968 he released his debut album "Songs of Leonard Cohen". "So long, Marianne," his farewell song for her, became one of his biggest hits. Marianne went back to Norway and fell in love with an engineer. She has been happily married for over 30 years. The memory of the time on Hydra carries the 73-year-old still today - without sadness. "This love was a gift," she says, "for me and for Leonard."
Muses have a very ambivalent role. They are very close to the artist, sometimes - as a model - even naked. At the same time they are objects of art. Distance is the nature of their relationship. Before Lucian Freud had asked her to go into his studio, Sue Tilley had never done that before, never having moved out in front of a strange man. "It was unpleasant at first, then not anymore, he was always friendly," Sue recalls. When Freud painted them, Sue Tilley weighed 120 pounds and got 20 pounds per session from him. "A lot of meat for the money," she grins today, about 20 pounds lighter. Nice she does not necessarily find his pictures.But for Lucian she was perfect - at least in the moments when he brought her luscious body forms with the brush on the canvas.
Muses have fateful encounters
Mafalda von Hessen is the perfect woman for fashion designer Giorgio Armani. "She wears my clothes with incredible elegance and naturalness," he says. Mafalda von Hessen is the prototype of today's muse. Armani gets inspiration from them, but he does not mess up their lives. Mafalda grew up in Schleswig-Holstein on Gut Panker. When she remembers her childhood, she talks about apple pie and the Baltic Sea. She is a painter, mother of four children and married in the third marriage to the heir of an Italian oil dynasty. She lives splendidly in the Villa Polissena, a city castle in Rome, but at the weekend she is weeding with her children in the not-splendid vegetable garden. That just a shy man like Armani chose a woman like Mafalda to Muse, is due to this down-to-earthness. He appreciates her unpretentious manner. "I have kids and family, I'm over 40 and not a skinny model," she says. "He likes my style because I'm real." She does her thing, is independent of fast fashions and opinions, that pleases the fashion artist.
"I'm not ambitious at all," says Sue. "Many tell me, 'Do this, do that, take an agent,' and I always say, 'No.' I like it when things happen to me. " Like the meeting with Lucian Freud. The book about her friend Leigh Bowery, a cult figure in the London club scene, was also written by Sue because she was asked to. Maybe she'll put records in a nightclub soon. Or she writes a column. You have already asked them. Fateful encounters are born of chance. Friendships too.
Filmmaker Derek Jarman and actress Tilda Swinton met at eye level. He was fascinated by her Renaissance face with bright green eyes, but even more her disciplined and fearless manner. "It was like we were going on a conversation that we had started at some point before, we talked on and on," she reminded herself her first encounter with Jarman. He immediately gave her a role in his film "Caravaggio" (1986). Until his death in 1994, she starred in seven of his films and became one of his closest confidants. The Oscar winner ("Michael Clayton," 2008) talks about the deceased like a buddy, an accomplice. Jarman also found in her a best friend, collaborator, daring and strong character. For both the art was like a room to which only they had the key. Tilda Swinton was his muse, but at the same time he became her. When Jarman died of AIDS in 1994, she spent eight weeks a week in a glass casket at London's Serpentine Gallery for eight hours a day. Next to the casket hung a sign: "Matilda Swinton (1960-), the legacy of her friend Jarman is close to her heart."
Dogs and horses are often better off in the pictures of Lucian Freud than women, as in his life. His approximately 14 children first met their father when they sat him model. "Freud is one of the most self-centered men I've ever met," says Sue Tilley. "He never thinks twice, he has no doubt, he knows no guilt, he does what he wants." She is probably one of the few confidants who can enjoy the ego-centrism of the painter. In any case, she has enough self-confidence. And distance. Sue Tilley knows her part: she was his muse. No more and no less.
Book tips: Francine Prose: "The Life of the Muses: From Lou Andreas-Salomé to Yoko Ono", Nagel & Kimche, 464 p., 24,90 Euro. In it, the author concedes with the prejudice that female muses are the victims of famous artists. On the contrary, for the women it was a chance to break out of traditional patterns.
Cristina De Stefano: "Adventurous Americans", SchirmerGraf, 256 p., 18.80 euros. Women who are smart, talented and daring have always impressed men. For example, composer Kay Swift was the muse of George Gershwin, and model Lee Miller inspired photographer Man Ray.