History of Modelling in Art

History of Modelling and Artist’s Model role.

The Art Model has long been essential to the work of the Artist. They often serve as artists’ muses—mortals who can sometimes be almost otherworldly in their ability to inspire creativity—yet a talent for holding still is often more important than beauty. Art Models are too often given short shrift in art history, their names and stories left unknown unless their fame came by way of scandal.

To capture the essence of the human face, the contours of a muscle and the glint of an eye is no mean feat and artists are continually redefining the image of beauty. Indeed, many of the portraits we see hanging in galleries are of the beauties of their time but with a modern eye, these images seem a little outdated; one wonders how the beauties of our age will stand the test of time.

Although feminine beauty is continually being redefined, the image of masculine beauty has changed little since Ancient Egyptian times.

One thing that has remained constant throughout the history of art is the artist’s need for a model. This entry aims to shed light on an often overlooked, yet vital element of the cultural world.

People chose to become artist models for one of two reasons; they either need the money, or they are doing a favour for an artist friend who needs to save money. Nobody becomes an artist model for fun; sitting statue-still for up to four hours at a time is no-one’s definition of a good time. Funnily enough though, there are always plenty of people wanting to pose, including actors, students and sportsmen and women. If you commission a painting and you are its subject, then this gives you some leeway. If you are not, in the several hours it takes for the painting to be completed, your life, body, time and mind are no longer your own. This is the reason why becoming an artists model is the staple work for the terminally short of money and, along with sperm donation, is one of the preferred cash earners of students.

Throughout history, there has always been a face that inspired, embodied, and influenced unique points in time. From Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships, to Cleopatra, the monarch who seduced an empire, its emperor, and inspired Shakespeare. With the emergence of the first designers and photographers, models quickly followed, helping to shape our ideals, culture, and fashion since the earliest days of the industry.
Early history: Artists fist began using live models for drawing the human form. Waist to hip ratio was used to determine “ideal proportions” for sculptures.
1391: Queen Isabella of Bavaria gives a life-size doll to Queen Ann of Bohemia to show clothes on a human form. Later called “model dolls,” they became popular gifts among aristocracy and are used as tools for designers.
In the nineteenth century, the first living mannequins, or “manikins,” took their name from the static dummy or lay figure they were soon to replace as the principal form of display in the dress-maker’s salon. While the word “mannequin”-in French, le mannequin-described the woman, the word “model”- le modèle-designated the gown she exhibited in the salon. The model gown was a one-off that did not go into production; it was thus both an exclusive dress for sale to an individual client, and a prototype (hence the term model) sold to a fashion buyer for adaptation to the mass market. Both model gowns and model women were at the heart of the commercial development of the French couture industry and its global markets, and there was always some confusion in the terminology.
1852: Charles Frederick Worth is generally thought to be the first couturier to use live models. However, many nineteenth-century dressmakers had a young woman available to put on a dress for a client, although their primary mode of display was a wooden or wicker dummy. Charles Worth asks a shop girl to demonstrate designs and she also becomes his wife. Marie modeled in the Worth salons until the 1870s. Maison Worth’s real innovation was thus to institutionalize the profession within the increasingly bureaucratic structure of a couture house, having several trained house mannequins, rather than using the occasional petit main, or seamstress, as a model.
Early 1900s: Young girls in good form are used to display clothing but not regarded as socially significant. Lady Duff Gordon of Lucille’s begins to groom these girls. They invoked both admiration and disapproval, disconcerting their critics precisely because they wore fashionable dress in public for money rather than for its own sake.
1924: Opening of first modeling agencies. Coco Chanel is responsible for putting women in pants. Elsa Schaparelli mixed high society with fashion and art, while Madame Vionnet innovated the bias cut to flatter the figure. These designers revolutionized women’s silhouettes, style, and established women in the front line of the fashion business. The face of this changing time was one of elegance, grace, and ambition.
1930: The Society Girl era of modeling really began when Vogue produced its first color cover in 1932. To be the cover girl became the ultimate prize, and modeling began to be seen as a career rather than a side job.
Late 1940s: By the time Christian Dior’s New Look line debuted in 1947, fashion had become news and designers wanted their own muses and models to bring their designs to life. His top 12 models all resemble this aesthetics – sophisticated, mid-thirties.
1950s: Chanel’s Total Look. Chanel uses herself and family members as models or young aristocrats styled on the designer’s looks and attitudes.
Grace Kelly, model turned actress, seamlessly transformed from onscreen star to real-life princess when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1956. Never before had modeling promised such a “happily ever after” future. Women were now turning to fashion influenced by the silver screen, and the Hollywood Glamour  era of modeling emerged. It didn’t take long for the world to become fascinated with fashion; the designers, the drama, the new looks. Avedon was even immortalized in the film Funny Face as Dick Avery (played by Fred Astaire; Audrey Hepburn was his cover girl). His character asks, “What’s wrong with bringing out a girl who has character, spirit, and intelligence?”
1960s: Models/photographers are new elite of beautiful people. “Natural” models ie. sexy, friendly and relaxed. Opposite to earlier “haughty” unrealness of couture models. Exotic models used.
1970s: The economic recession changes model fees incorporated into the advertising budget. Naturalism and androgyny trends rise. First appearance of Californian look ie. tanned, “natural,” healthy.
Early 1980s: The economic comeback creates a demand for models with energy and “sense of fun.”
Mid/late 80s: Supermodels. Huge fees but safe-bet as represented global ideals of beauty. Surge in media attention of fashion industry.
1990s: Displacement of natural, healthy looks. Grunge style, waif, blasé attitude= Anti-fashion statement. Adolescent body type becomes the ideal, modeling careers started much earlier.
Late 1990s: Trend of modeling with “real people,” those with interesting lives or “unusual “ features.
2010: Revisionist aesthetics, the woman’s body is back.


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