At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will state again that artistic muses can be found anywhere. On this blog I’ve profiled muses who were “discovered” in varying settings and with differing relationships to the artists themselves. Many of the great works of art have featured subjects who were sometimes fellow artists, prostitutes, dancers, aristocrats, wives and lovers (or in some cases the lovers of other artists), milliners, peasants, small-town girls, dressmakers, and even professional artist’s models :yay!: It’s a mistake to define who a muse should be. That’s up to the artist to decide. There’s only one common denominator; the feelings dictate that the creative impulse must be carried out. An artist is compelled to “examine” a subject, develop intimacy with a subject, put that subject on canvas or, in the case of Andrew Wyeth and Helga Testorf, many canvases.
So who is Helga Testorf? She is a Prussian-born immigrant who was a caregiver to one of Wyeth’s neighbors near his home in rural Chadd’s Ford, Pennsylvania. She was 32 years old when Wyeth first met her in the early 1970s, and something about the blond beauty stirred the artist in a very profound way. They were merely acquaintances for a while until finally Wyeth asked her to pose. Helga had never posed before but was willing. From the years 1971-1985, Wyeth produced over 240 works of Helga. Although known as a master in egg tempera, Wyeth used various mediums, and posed Helga in various settings; indoors and outdoors, nude and clothed.
The work sessions with Helga were carried out in secret, unbeknownst even to Wyeth’s own wife and Helga’s husband. The pairing proved to be a fertile artistic relationship, and Wyeth’s stunning output rocked the art world when it was finally revealed in the mid 1980s, even making the cover of Time magazine.
Wyeth’s portrait of Helga, Braids:
In his represenational style, employing a controlled technique and subtle palette, Wyeth depicts Helga often in a state of isolation. How perfectly that mirrors the private, behind-closed-doors nature of their work sessions, which were literally hidden from the outside world.
A nude Helga in Overflow:
Helga has said that this piece, titled Letting Her Hair Down, is her personal favorite of the series:
The Helga works are arguably the most famous series of a single sitter in all of art. While I was gathering information for this post, I came across some pretty rude and cynical articles, written of course by uppity, judgmental, arrogant “art critic” types, who get off on ridicule and salacious speculation. I can’t stand those people, mostly because none of them are artists themselves and certainly have never been muses to anyone (which is why I try, whenever possible, to eliminate their petty “critiques” from this blog). For all their so-called “knowledge”, they seem so ignorant about the nature of creative inspiration and the relationship that evolves between an artist and his model. If only they understood the thrilling experience of an imagination stimulated, a soul nourished, emotions kindled, and a deep bond developing between two people. Sometimes I think they just don’t get it. But I’ve been there. I know how it feels.
Andrew Wyeth and Helga Testorf remain close friends to this day. Their relationship, and the art created as a result, has endured over many, many years, so I’d say they have the last word. The Helga series is artist/muse embodied to perfection. And every artist should be so lucky to find his Helga.