When We Confuse the Artist’s Muse with the Artist’s Model

Drawing workshop, the Art League School, Alexandria, VA, (2018)

Helga Testorf is considered to be the last unknown person made famous by a painting. Testorf was Andrew Wyeth’s model from 1971 to 1985, during which time Wyeth secretly made over 240 paintings of her and hid them from everyone, including his wife. When the “Helga Pictures” were released in 1986, the public went wild with salacious curiosity, inevitably posing the question of whether the artist and model were sexually involved. Even 27 years after the paintings were made public, Testorf had to address the question in the BBC’s production “Michael Palin in Wyeth’s World,” stating, “They didn’t know any better. They did not know our language, we were not talking that way. We had better things to think about.”

Our culture seems obsessed with the artist/model relationship, portrayed in countless movies and narratives as a relationship that is — and can only be — lustful and scandalous.

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