Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Even in the rarefied world of fine art, clichés often hold true.

For instance, the notion of the painter or sculptor in his or her studio, feverishly working, shaping, carving, drawing, with a model striking a specific pose cliché or no cliché, that very scenario is still one of the realities of making art. The human body, after all, has long been the principal, singular form from which so many artists draw inspiration.

From the very first, LIFE magazine celebrated not only artists and their creations, but their process: drawing, sketching, sculpting, painting and all the other ways that the truly creative among us develop and bring into being their vision of what is, or perhaps what should be. Here, then, a gallery of photographs that pay tribute to the artist at work, and the simple, beautiful, living human form that so often serves as the artist’s most enduringly reliable muse.


Robert Rauschenberg (1925 - 2008) employs a nude model, huge sheets of photographic paper, flowers, leaves, and a sun lamp to create a new work.

Robert Rauschenberg (1925 – 2008)

Wallace Kirkland Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A large group of Farnsworth Art School students paint a nude model in 1946.

Farnsworth Art School

Andreas Feininger Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The American painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889 - 1975) works on his painting "Persephone"

Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975)

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Thomas Hart Benton at work on his painting, "The Rape of Persephone."

Thomas Hart Benton: Painter, Writer

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Skowhegan School of Art students in Maine sketch a nude model in 1948

Skowhegan School of Art

Eliot Elisofon Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Jean Negulesco (1900 - 1993) paints a portrait of a nude model in his Hollywood studio.

Jean Negulesco (1900 – 1993)

Jerry Cooke Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Moses Soyer (1899 - 1974) paints a portrait of a woman in his Greenwich Village studio.

Moses Soyer (1899 – 1974)

Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Artist David Fredenthal (1914 - 1958) sketches a model.

David Fredenthal (1914 – 1958)

Gjon Mili Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

German surrealist Fabius von Gugel (1910 - 2000) sketches a nude outdoors against a backdrop in Rome.

Fabius von Gugel (1910 – 2000)

Jack Birns Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Model Doris Fischer takes a smoke break at the 100-year-old Art Institute of Chicago-affiliated school and colony in Ox-Bow, Michigan, in 1946.

Nude With Cigarette, Ox-Bow, Michigan

Loomis Dean Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Students at the University of Iowa draw from a nude model in 1961.

Nude Model, Iowa

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Sculptor Chaim Gross (1904 - 1991) works with a pair of models in his studio.

Chaim Gross in His Studio

Eliot Elisofon Time Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Artists paint a nude model in Big Sur, Calif., in 1959.

Big Sur, 1959

J. R. Eyerman Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A nude model avoids cacti as an arthritis patient paints her in the American Southwest in 1948.

Arthritis Patient Paints a Nude Model

Alfred Eisenstaedt Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Students sketch a female nude model during life drawing class at the Skowhegan School of the Arts in 1948.

Nude, Standing, Slouched

Gjon Mili Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A painter prepares a billboard for the 1958 Ava Gardner film, The Naked Maja.

Painter Prepares a Nude Billboard

Bill Bridges Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Sculptor Chaim Gross sketches a nude model in 1942.

Sculptor Chaim Gross

Eliot Elisofon Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A nude model poses for artist Fletcher Martin in 1940.

Model Poses for Fletcher Martin

Peter Stackpole Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A self-portrait by the Italian painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888 - 1978)

Giorgio de Chirico, Nude Self-Portrait, 1946

Nat Farbman Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Henri Matisse (1869 - 1954) sculpts a nude female figure while sitting in bed in his apartment in 1951.

Henri Matisse at Work, 1951

Dmitri Kessel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

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