Uncovering the Hidden Figures Behind Art History's Masterpieces


Brought to you by Penguin.

Meet the unexpected, overlooked and forgotten models of art history.

Who was Picasso's 'Weeping Woman'?
Why was Grace Jones covered in graffiti?
How did Francis Bacon meet the burglar who became his muse?

The perception of the muse is that of a passive, powerless model, at the mercy of an influential and older artist. But is this trope a romanticised myth? Far from posing silently, muses have brought emotional support, intellectual energy, career-changing creativity and practical help to artists.

Muse tells the true stories of the incredible muses who have inspired art history's masterpieces. From Leonardo da Vinci's studio to the covers of Vogue, art historian, critic and writer Ruth Millington uncovers the remarkable role of muses in some of art history's most well-known and significant works. Delving into the real-life relationships that models have held with the artists who immortalised them, it will expose the influential and active part they have played and deconstruct reductive stereotypes, reframing the muse as a momentous and empowered agent of art history.

© Ruth Millington 2022 (P) Penguin Audio 2022


  • Packed with tales of enchanting lives, this book puts so many forgotten and so often unnamed figures into the spotlight. Telling their stories - in ways I like to think is on their terms - Ruth Millington sheds light on so many figures we know by image, but so often not by name. An exhilarating and fascinating insight into many of the people who have shaped our culture, and who have redefined what we think and know of as 'muse'.
    Katy Hessel, author of 'The Story of Art Without Men'

About the authors

Ruth Millington

Ruth Millington is an art historian, writer and critic. After studying art history during an MA at the University of Oxford, Ruth Millington spent five years working for museums and galleries across the UK, including the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology, the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art and renowned modern art dealership Connaught Brown. She is an art expert on radio and TV, including BBC Breakfast, Woman's Hour, ITV News, BBC WM Radio, Radio 4's Today programme and in a Sky Arts documentary on Cold War Steve, entitled 'Cold War Steve Meets the Outside World'.

Ruth has had writing featured across national newspapers, including the Telegraph, the i, The Sunday Times, Daily Mail and Express, , She is also a regular contributor to Art UK, writing features that bring art history to life through engaging stories and interviews with artists. Working with museums and galleries, Ruth has written extended essays for exhibition catalogues on artists including Samin Ahmadzadeh, Annette Pugh, Shani Rhys James, Baltasar Lobo, Ben Nicholson and Julie van der Vaart. In 2019, Ruth wrote a catalogue on the artist Eric Tucker to accompany a major show at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery, achieving national press coverage.

Ruth lectures on art history, and has spoken at Coventry University, the University of Oxford and Sotheby's Institute of Art, where she is Head of the Careers Service. Ruth also manages an award-winning art blog at She uses the platform to write, in particular, about women artists and gender in art history.

Twitter: @ruth_millington
Learn More

Dina Razin (Illustrator)

Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more