Study Gallery

By Jeremy Miles

FROM the tabloids' most vilified chav Princess to classical muse in less than five years - it's been a strange old journey for Coleen McLoughlin.

It's perhaps hard to believe that the model posing for fashion photographer John Paul Pietrus in the style of Jan Vermeer's 17th century Dutch masterpiece Girl With A Pearl Earring is footballer Wayne Rooney's girlfriend.

Can this be the same Coleen who found infamy as the supposed patron saint of Burberry-clad hordes of shop til you drop Vicky Pollard lookalikes?

Indeed it can, and the Pietrus project - which also found her recreating images inspired by Botticelli, Manet, John Singer Sargent and David Hockney - can only help the 21-year-old finally shake off her image as track-suited touchline totty with a terrifying shopping habit.

The photographic re-imagining of Girl With A Pearl Earring is just one of a fascinating series of works exploring the subject of artist and muse that has gone on show at The Study Gallery of Modern Art at Poole College.

Curators Sandy Wilderspin and Andy Kirkby have gathered a world-class collection - mainly paintings and photographs - by big names from the past 80 years.

The earlier material includes photographs by Man Ray and Lee Miller, while the more contemporary exhibits offer works by, among others, Cindy Sherman, Sarah Lucas and Jake and Dinos Chapman.

Also included are works from the college's extraordinary permanent collection, one of which - Jacob Epstein's beautiful bust of his lover, Kathleen Garman - perhaps indicates that being a little too partial to the shops is but a minor problem for an artist's muse.

Kathleen's love for Epstein actually caused her to be gunned down. His wife Margaret took exception to this beautiful young woman's relationship with her husband and, in a fit of pique, put a bullet through her shoulder.

This was unfortunate because, under most circumstances the long-suffering Mrs E. was an extraordinarily tolerant woman who not only accepted her husband's mistresses, but even brought up their children.

The shooting, in 1927, failed to deter Kathleen, who remained with the still-married sculptor to the end, finally marrying him in 1955, some six years after Margaret's death.

Stories like this add a fascinating dimension to this insightful exhibition which not only brings some fine works to Dorset but also highlights the often complex relationship between artist and muse.

Sometimes, as in the very different cases of Cindy Sherman and Sarah Lucas, the muse is also the artist.

For Jake and Dinos Chapman, it was any member of the public willing to stump up £400 to have their "likeness" captured - while William Wegmen has a positively telepathic connection with his Weimaraner dogs, and Richard Billingham took his inspiration from his dysfunctional, alcohol-sodden family whose dire circumstances he photographed with huge love, affection and humour.

For German artist Melanie Manchot, a beautiful and sensitively realised naked image of her ageing mother speaks volumes about our attitude to beauty and the human body.

Mona Hatoum sees the body as a final frontier. A giant hanging shows her face under potential assault from an armed soldier in battle-dress. Over My Dead Body reads a massive slogan. It was Hatoum, of course, who famously made art out of her own insides after using an endoscopic camera to chart a course through her bowels.

Elsewhere the show explores how advancing technology can affect the traditional artist-model relationship.

There are works by American painter Les Rogers, for instance, which, although presented in conventional style, are of a "virtual model", a Texan teenager called Lindsey who posts new images of herself on-line each week. Rogers' work explores the choices artists make and raises questions about quite how intrusive one can be in a world where individuals choose to create their own on-line identities and propel them into cyberspace.

There's history here too. A reminder of how much life has changed in a few short decades.

Looking at the groundbreaking photographs by Man Ray and Lee Miller from the 1920s and 1930s, one is reminded that professional relationships can, and do, change.

The beautiful, talented but damaged Miller - raped at the age of seven, repeatedly photographed naked by her father, needy and manipulative - began her professional life as Man Ray's muse. Though she was one of the signature models of the Surrealist age, she found fame as a photographer in her own right. As an accredited war correspondent she would photograph the Nazi death camps. Pictures of the beaten bodies of starved and tortured Jews appeared in American Vogue, among advertisements for fancy hats and gowns.

Artist Muse is at the Study Gallery of Modern Art at Poole College's North Road Campus until January 19, 2008. Call 01202 205200 or visit

© Jeremy Miles 2022