Art lovers: man-of-steel Anish Kapoor has found a new muse

Anish Kapoor, 59, is stepping out with the 27-year-old garden designer Sophie Walker. He thereby joins the ranks of other male artists drawn to younger models, such as Damien Hirst, Julian Schnable - and not forgetting Picasso.

It's been a helter-skelter year: Anish Kapoor and Sophie Walker in Venice
It's been a helter-skelter year: Anish Kapoor and Sophie Walker in Venice

The Pre-Raphaelites made the hippies’ free love movement look square, Rodin had a passionate but destructive affair with his assistant, and Picasso never lost his vigour. The romantic lives of artists have often been as colourful as their works. But if you want to see what makes the artist tick, cherchez la muse.

A new one has just stalked onto the British art scene. Sophie Walker, a willowy and elegant 27-year-old, had been sculptor’s assistant to Sir Anish Kapoor up until last year in his studio, but now the 59-year-old artist seems to have fallen for her.

The two were pictured holding hands at the opening of a solo exhibition of his work in Kiev last May, just a week after the ArcelorMittal Orbit — his 115m sculpture which looks like knotted melting cranes beside the Olympic Park — was unveiled, and were most recently seen together at the Venice Biennale and a Chelsea Flower Show dinner in May. Walker and Kapoor make an eye-catching couple: he is longer in years but she stands several inches taller.

While Walker steps up to the pedestal, another woman steps down. Kapoor has been married to Susanne Spicale, a striking German-born art historian, who also towers over him, for 18 years. A fixture on London’s art scene, they had been living in a new home in Chelsea, built to commission in 2008 for themselves and their two teenage children. But friends report that Kapoor and Spicale are now living apart — it’s not known who has ceded the stone and glass subterranean territory to the other.

Walker is not keen to unveil herself to the public since the Daily Mail ran details of her closeness to Kapoor. “I don’t want to talk about it,” she said, in clipped, matter-of-fact tones when the Standard called. “I haven’t even read the story [in the Mail].”

Kapoor, the outsider who turned up to study at Hornsey College of Art in 1973, has now become a public figure and a member of the Establishment: his works fetching up to £2 million at auction, he is worth around £100 million and was awarded a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. In October, a dinner was held for Kapoor at the Lisson Gallery, which represents him. Labour leader Ed Miliband was one of those who attended.

Despite the greatness thrust upon him, Kapoor remains sparkly and jovial, though shy of publicity on anything other than his art.

Walker, meanwhile, is just starting out on her artistic journey. She had been one of the team of specialist assistants in Kapoor’s studios, in a former roller-blind factory in Camberwell, who work on the technical aspects of his sculptures in glass, stone and cement. If there’s a muse in Kapoor’s work, it isn’t representational. The forms he uses are often coolly geometrical — his signature pieces are his concave wall sculptures, hollow half-spheres which invite the viewer to look deeply into them — but he likes the idea his works resonate with sexuality.

“You can’t be coy about it,” he said in a recent interview. “Art is good at intimacy: it can say, ‘Come here, be part of this’, beckoning. It’s a tool of intimacy.”

Walker, drawn in, has graduated from Kapoor’s studio and moved on to develop her own artistic strand in garden design. At next week’s Hampton Court Flower Show she will exhibit A Valley Garden which, she says, has been inspired by the eternal summer garden in Jean Rhys’s Wild Sargasso Sea. Preliminary sketches show Walker has also developed an interest in dramatic architectural structures. The garden opens with a “moongate”, a circular opening through which a path leads you into a lush valley of plants.

The art world has seen a carousel of new partners of late, in which age differences — Kapoor’s and Walker’s is 32 years — seem more casually accepted than artistic statement now.

Artist Julian Schnabel , who made his name with large paintings on broken ceramic plates stuck to canvas before moving into film, is set to become a father at the age of 61, the mother being his fiancée, May Andersen, a 30-year-old Danish model. She will be his third wife.

Damien Hirst has also found love with a younger woman. He and his longstanding partner Maia Norman split up last year after 19 years and three children together. She embarked on a relationship with the former Lieutenant Colonel Tim Spicer, while Hirst, once the enfant terrible of Brit Art, has kindled a relationship with the glamorous Roxie Nafousi, 23, who works for drinks giant Diageo. Hirst, at 48, has a quarter of a century more life experience than Nafousi. The two seem to have been happily stepping out for more than a year and were seen together at the Serpentine summer party last month.

The artist-director formerly known as Sam Taylor-Wood has proved that muses aren’t just for men of artistic temperament. She and Jay Jopling had been the golden couple of the Brit Art scene but parted company four years ago, after a decade-long relationship. Jopling, the art dealer who owns the White Cube galleries and turns 50 this year, has held his value in the market and now has a new partner, Hikari Yokoyama, a 28-year-old American art expert who has uprooted from New York.

Taylor-Wood, meanwhile, found herself a younger muse in actor Aaron Johnson, who had starred in her film Nowhere Boy, aged just 19. She was 42. Eyebrows were raised but Taylor-Wood and Johnson proved the critics wrong: they are now married — Sam now calls herself Taylor-Johnson — and Johnson is father to two of her children.

However, the romantic lives of modern artists remain pretty tame when compared with those of their predecessors. Picasso shrugged at the 40-year age difference between himself and his muse and mother to two of his children, Françoise Gilot. Sir Anish still has a way to go to join the legendary lovers of the art world.