Fascinating Photos of the Models Who Inspired Famous Artworks

Earlier this week, we found ourselves fascinated, and slightly unnerved, by Flóra Borsi’s photo manipulations, which bring abstract figures from paintings to life. They apply a surreal and cartoonish twist to the traditional notion of the model as subject, and mischievously toy with our separation of real and aesthetic dimensions. Of course, the two are intimately related, and although they may lack the jaw-dropping oddity of Borsi’s modernist muses, the real-life models of the fine art world have their own fascinating stories to tell. Fortunately, the advent of photography offered artists the opportunity to capture their sitters for reference. Not only has this development created a series of compelling historical images, but also a wealth of intriguing companion-pieces to landmark works. View famous artworks and the models that inspired them, side by side, in our gallery.


Grant Wood, American Gothic

Grant Wood’s sister Nan and the family’s dentist, Dr. Byron McKeeby, donned a colonial apron and overalls to pose for the painter’s American Gothic. Rather than these formidable figures, however, it was actually a Carpenter Gothic-style house in Iowa that inspired Wood to create the 1930 painting. He decided to add people to the picture that he imagined would live inside the dwelling — in this case, a farmer and his spinster daughter.