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The Naked Muse

by Kelley Swain

“Fans of Rebecca Solnit or Marina Warner will love this.” — Richard Skinner

Throughout her twenties, Kelley Swain worked as an artists’ model. The Naked Muse is her elegant, fascinating memoir of this time, meditating on art, travel, and how we accept, inhabit, and understand our own bodies. She describes her first experience disrobing for a class, modelling for international artists over six years, an intensive month being painted in Bruges, and posing as saints for a Sicilian chapel frieze.

Swain reveals how it really feels physically, intellectually, and emotionally – in the moment when “it’s my matter that matters, not ... what I consider to be ‘me’.” Both a flirtation with submissiveness and a wielding of power, Swain examines the model’s role in art’s alchemy, and tells the forgotten stories of women whose faces still bewitch us from gallery walls.

“A virtuoso concoction of life writing, meditations on painters and painting, body morphology, travelogue and researched investigation into the 'gaze'. Full of light and colour, Swain’s prose flows beautifully ... fans of Rebecca Solnit or Marina Warner will love this.”
— Richard Skinner, author of The Mirror

“An insightful, lyrical memoir which sheds light on the role of nude models ... illuminating both their immortality and invisibility.”
Fani Papageorgiou, TLS


Kelley Swain was born in Rhode Island, 1985, and is now based in Oxfordshire, working as a writer, editor and educator in poetry, science and the medical humanities.

In 2013, Kelley worked with seven poets and one illustrator to create the anthology Pocket Horizon, which was launched in October of that year at the Science Museum, London. Kelley's verse drama set in 18th-century Florence, Opera di Cera, was published in March 2014.

Kelley's memoir of her years working as a life model, The Naked Muse, was published by Valley Press in May 2016. That year also saw Kelley contributing to the VP anthology Guests of Time, after a residency at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

Her first collection of poetry was Darwin’s Microscope, originally published by Flambard Press in 2009, but re-released in a revised and expanded tenth-anniversary edition by Valley Press in 2019.


Edition: Paperback

Date Published: 2016-05-26

ISBN: 9781908853677

Catalogue Number: VP0084

Number of Pages: 166

Cover design by Jamie McGarry

Cover photograph by Nicola Pappalettera

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