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Do you know that the woman in the Mona Lisa, was actually an Italian noblewoman named Lisa del Giocondo? We didn’t too. Here, we’ve listed down 8 well-known paintings and their subjects’ real identities.
If you’re expecting a gothic person with black outfits and thick eyeliner, we’re sorry to disappoint. Nonetheless, the painting probably got its name from the house in the background, which was built in a carpenter-gothic architectural style. In search of models for his painting, Grant Wood had his sister, Nan Wood Graham and his dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby (who would’ve thought?) pose as farmer and daughter for the portrait in 1930.
Painted by Édouard Manet, the artwork was famously known for Olympia - the nude woman’s piercing gaze. In the painting, the fully clothed servant was identified as an art model named Laure, while the lady modelling as Olympia was Victorine Meurent, a famous French painter from a middle-class family of artisans. It was said that the painter portrayed her as a prostitute in his art as the name “Olympia” and the black cat at the foot of the bed is a symbol of prostitution. There have also been theories that suggested Olympia was watching the door to which her client burst in.
When you see a woman sprawled on a field struggling to crawl back home outside your window, you probably wouldn’t have thought of using that as an inspiration for a painting. But that was exactly what American painter, Andrew Wyeth did. The subject in his painting was Wyeth’s neighbour, Anna Christina Olson, who suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease. Wyeth decided to paint Christina’s world as a tribute to Olson, illustrating her difficult journey home that most would have considered nothing.
The Swing was done by Jean-Honoré Fragonard when Baron de St. Julien, the Receiver General of the French Clergy requested for a painting of his mistress, with a bishop pushing the swing and him positioned to observe her legs. However, Fragonard himself decided to depict the bishop as the mistress’s husband (both of whom are still unidentified) who seemingly appeared to be unaware of his wife’s secret lover. How, uhm, romantic.
A man standing in a simple overcoat and a bowler cap could’ve been anyone especially since the apple is hovering over the man’s face. I mean, do you see Charlie Chaplin? However, look closely and you’ll notice the man’s eyes peeking through. We hate to break it to you, but that definitely isn’t Charlie Chaplin. The Son of Man is actually a self-portrait of the painter, René Magritte.
Nathan Hughes Hamilton
Among one of four of Leonardo da Vinci’s female portraits, the Lady with an Ermine was discovered to be a portrait of the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza’s favourite mistress, Cecilia Gallerani. Deriving from a family that wasn’t wealthy, Gallerani posed with little jewellery, grabbing all the attention to the sitter herself and the white ermine in her arms.
Leonardo da Vinci
A Bar at the Folies-Bergère is a painting by Édouard Manet famously known for its flawed positioning of the angle of the mirror reflecting behind the lady. The subject of the painting was identified as Suzon, an actual barmaid at Folies-Bergère. If you’re wondering who the man on the top right corner is, he’s possibly a made-up figure to represent the viewer’s reflection as you stare at the barmaid through the painting (yeah, that’s you we’re talking about).
Madame X was revealed to be a portrait of a Parisian socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau. Due to her refined beauty, painter John Singer Sargent had to plea her for months for this painting. Yet after obtaining the opportunity, it seemed that Gautreau was extremely difficult to work with. Guess the beauty was a pain. Regardless, Sargent managed to capture Gautreau’s flattering figure in the painting which initiated his successful career outside of France.
Metropolitan Museum of Art
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