Saturday, July 19, 2008

Ariadne's Thread

"Back into the labyrinth, where we are found or lost forever."
W.B. Yeats

A single crumpled landscape painted strokes of a checkerboard pattern and a checked quilt on another’s canvases are the only known works of art that Sunday Reed, the late Australian arts patron and Muse of several artists has left for posterity. However, she continues to arouse, as the tabloid and quality press recently reported that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban’s creative choice of their baby’s unusual name was inspired by the still-controversial Sunday Reed.

Sunday was a woman who provided inspiration and acted as Muse for many of the famous painters of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s in Australia, including Sir Sydney Nolan, one of the giants of 20th century Australian art and Albert Tucker. She shocked many by entering into an open menage a trios with John Reed and Sydney Nolan, during which Nolan produced most of his greatest work, including the famous Ned Kelly series.

Melbourne art historian Janine Burke, devoted much time researching Sunday Reed, culminating in a book, The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide, wherein she stated Sunday was not only Nolan's lover and financial supporter in the 1940’s but collaborated in his art. She further believes Sunday helped paint key sections of two paintings, The Trial and The Defence, both part of Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.

As stated in an Australian newspaper from 2004,
Burke suggests that Reed, once an art student, painted the red-and-white tiled floor in The Trial with a stencil and the checked quilt in The Defence of Aaron Sherritt, both now in the National Gallery of Australia.

Peter Haynes, director of the Nolan Gallery at Lanyon, said: "It wouldn't surprise me if she did. He worked so quickly right up to his death (in 1992). We've got works in the collection with times on them as well as dates, so he might well have had a bit of assistance here and there on something like a pattern."

No one is suggesting Nolan's paintings are devalued if he allowed Reed to assist him. But those close to the artists - wives in particular - are protective of their creative and emotional lives.

According to the psychologist Carl Jung, the Muse represents the male’s anima: “immortal,” she is “disguised under the many names we give to creative impulses and ideas.” In the life of Sunday Reed, we see the role of a woman artist being over-shadowed by the men around her. However, we also see how the role of the Muse elevates the artist, and supporting Jung’s understanding of the immortality of the Muse.

Some muses are erotic wives and lovers, while others are chaste and unattainable, some are solely devoted to the artistic expression of a single artist, whereas, others are serial Muses, facilitating the artistic labor of many. Regardless, the qualities and sacrifices of the living Muse has yet to be fully explored and documented. Here is a small sampling of some Muses throughout history and the artists they inspired:

Muse : Artist

Beatrice Portinari : Dante Alighieri
Lucrezia (del Fede) : Andrea del Sarto
Sandra Fisher : RB Kitaj
Maud Gonne : William Butler Yeats
Laura: Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca)
Emilie Flöge :Gustave Klimt
Monique Bourgeois :Henri Matisse
Victorine Louise Meurent: Edouard Manet
Camille Claudel : Auguste Rodin
Françoise Gilot : Pablo Picasso
Alma Mahler : Gustav Mahler, Oskar Kokoschka, Walter Gropius, & Franz Werfel
Elizabeth Siddal : Dante Gabriel Rossetti
Lou Andreas-Salomé :Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud
Lee Miller : Man Ray
Elena Ivanovna Diakonova (Aka Galarina aka Gala): Paul Éluard, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Andre Breton, & others

Francine Prose is one of the few writers who has sought to start to record the lives of women as Muse. She recently published a book entitled The Lives of the Muses: Nine Women and the Artists they Inspired, in which she wrote, ''Artists rarely create for the muse, to win or keep the Muse's love and admiration, but rather for themselves, for the world, and for the more inchoate and unquantifiable imperatives of art itself. Their muses are merely the instruments that raise the emotional and erotic temperature high enough, churn up the weather in a way that may speed and facilitate the artist's labors.''

I believe this is entirely true. Hesiod and Virgil believed that the Muses were symbols of ontological truth and certainty, allowing the artist to enter into greater awareness of consciousness and reception. It is also important to remember the presence of the muse is always numinous and dramatic, and the artist’s response to her determines our response to his artistic expression.

One will recall from classic Hellenic mythology, it is Ariadne, Muse and guide to truth, who gives Theseus the golden thread that leads into the labyrinth, where he slays the Minotaur and then follows the golden thread back into the light; in every time and season, Ariadne is born anew to yet another awakening Theseus divinely driven to create his art.

If one has the opportunity to view Henri Matisse’s final and greatest masterpiece, the Chapelle du Rosaire, one can see the direct impact of the Muse, and how the sapphire blue, emerald green and lemon yellow window with the prickly pear fig motif transmits the ever-revealing symbolism of contained yet ever-expectant vibrant sensuality .


Laura Winslow Godsil said...

Hi Sharon,
I enjoyed reading your blog but want to see more of your art.Did I not look hard enough? Do you have a web site? Thank you for your comment on my blog post. I subscibed to your feed and will add you to my blog roll. Thanks again and have a sunny day.

S. A. Hart said...

Laura, I appreciate your comments and adding my feed to your blog roll. You can view more of my artwork at

Please comment on the posts, as I enjoy hearing various views and learning from others.

Best wishes to you!