The Art Legends You’ve Never Heard Of

The art world has crafted many iconic paintings over centuries cementing artists names into the cultural landscape for decades to come. But what about the portraits on the canvases? Who are they? We uncover the people artists like Picasso, Vermeer and Magritte were inspired by to create some of their greatest works of art.
Johannes Vermeer, ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ (c.1665)
Who is the enigmatic girl, famed for her pearl earring? One theory is that she is Vermeer’s eldest daughter, Maria, who would have been aged 12 at the time. Magdalena, his patron’s teenage daughter, is another candidate. In Tracy Chevalier’s fictionalized novel she becomes Vermeer’s servant girl, Griet. In the movie adaptation Scarlett Johansson plays her; ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ certainly has star quality, despite, and perhaps because of, her anonymity.
Pablo Picasso, ‘The Weeping Woman’ (1937)
Picasso had a nine-year affair with the Surrealist artist Dora Maar. In 1937 she photographed Picasso creating ‘Guernica’. Alongside this mural-sized painting, he made a related series of ‘Weeping Woman portraits’ focused on mourning; Dora Maar modelled for these. While they reflect his outrage at the suffering caused by the bombing of Guernica, they also indicate the couple’s tumultuous affair. “Dora, for me, was always a weeping woman”, Picasso explained.
René Magritte, ‘The Son of Man’ (1964)
‘The Son of Man’ is one of Magritte’s most puzzling paintings. Who is the bowler hat man, hidden by an apple? The artwork started out as a self-portrait. However, letters written by Magritte indicate that he found it difficult to paint himself and used an apple to hide his face. In true Surrealist fashion, the picture also plays with perception and reality, the visible and invisible. As Magritte said: “everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see”.