Editorial Feature

Inspiration Station: The Places That Inspired Great Works

Discover where some of the most famous creatives have felt inspired 

Inspiration comes in many different forms. For many artists, musicians and authors it’s often the places they’ve visited by chance, the nooks they’ve found away from it all or even their own homes that prove the best catalyst for creativity.

To explore the various ways inspiration has come to some of the most well-known creatives, we take a Street View tour of the places that have inspired great works over the centuries. From a deserted Scottish cave to a busy McDonald’s restaurant, there’s something to inspire everyone!

1. Salvador Dalí: Port Lligat, Spain

Port Lligat is a little village located in a small bay on the Costa Brava. In 1930, Surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was drawn to the village by the landscape, light and isolation of the place. He soon set up home in a small fisherman’s hut. He once said of the area: “Port Lligat is the place of production, the ideal place for my work. Everything fits to make it so: time goes more slowly and each hour has its proper dimension. There is a geological peacefulness: it is a unique planetary case".

After the construction of his hut, Dalí then spent the next 40 years building his own house with his partner and muse, Gala. The space created was a series of labyrinthine nooks, with one area of the house containing a glass floor allowing Dali to study feet when practicing life drawing. Here you can see Port Lligat's small harbor and Dalí's white house in the background.

2. Felix Mendelssohn: Fingal’s Cave

German composer Felix Mendelssohn is most famous for Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream (1826), Italian Symphony (1833), and A Violin Concerto (1844). The composer found inspiration in all sorts of places, most often from the landscapes he visited. For instance in 1832, Mendelssohn debuted The Hebrides, a piece directly inspired by his visit to Fingal’s Cave, a sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.

Fingal’s Cave is known for its acoustics and after visiting the natural wonder, Mendelssohn wrote to his sister: “In order to make you understand how extraordinarily the Hebrides affected me, I send you the following, which came into my head there.” The cave has proved inspirational for many creatives over the years: artist J.M.W Turner depicted the cave in a dramatic scene; 18th century Scottish poet James Macpherson wrote a poem about it; and even Pink Floyd penned an instrumental track titled, you guessed it, Fingal’s Cave.

Staffa, Fingal's Cave by J.M.W. Turner (From the collection of Yale Center for British Art)

3. Mary Shelley: Castle Frankenstein

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein famously came into being after being challenged by Lord Byron, who suggested that she, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Polidori all try to write a horror story. Shelley published the story anonymously in 1818 when she was 20 and it’s been in print ever since.

But what inspired the gothic tale? Rumour has it, Shelley was inspired by Frankenstein Castle near the River Rhine in Mühltal, Germany. Scientist and alchemist Johann Konrad Dippel was born in the castle in 1673, and he had a penchant for horror himself. Tales of the alchemist suggest he dug up human body parts and did experiments on them. It’s said Shelley heard about Dippel during her visit and there the inspiration for her hair-raising novel began.

4. Paul Cézanne: Montagne St-Victoire

The mountain of Sainte-Victoire is a distinctive landmark near Aix-en-Provence, France, and was one of Impressionist painter Paul Cézanne's favorite subjects. From the 1880s to the early 1900s, the vista proved a big inspiration to the artist and he created a series of paintings after first laying eyes on the mountain while going past on a train. The changing landscape of the mountain is what Cézanne enjoyed most as it allowed him to play around with color and composition depending on the season, time of day and angle.

Montagne Saint-Victoire by Paul Cézanne (From the collection of Musée d'Orsay, Paris)

5. J.R.R. Tolkien: Puzzlewood

J.R.R Tolkien’s descriptions of Middle Earth in Lord of The Rings are said to be partly based on Puzzlewood in Gloucestershire's Forest of Dean in England. Tolkien was said to be a regular visitor to Puzzlewood and found ample material in the 14 acres of mystical woodland.

Over a mile of pathways were laid down in the early 19th century to provide access to the woods, and provide picturesque walks. The area contains strange rock formations, secret caves and ancient trees, with a confusing maze of paths.

6. Wesley Willis: McDonald's

In cult artist Wesley Willis’ 1995 song Rock’n’Roll McDonald’s, he sings: “McDonald’s is a place to rock/It is a restaurant where they buy food to eat/It is a good place to listen to the music.” The ode to the fast food restaurant is said to be inspired by what was a flagship McDonald’s and museum in Chicago.

The building has been a popular spot since 1983 and was turned into a museum in 2005. After being closed for refurbishment in 2017, at the beginning of 2018 the building was completely demolished. It is said a new iteration will be built on the site, but if you can still check out the original building on Street View below.

7. John Lennon: Strawberry Field

For the Beatles' 1967 song Strawberry Fields Forever, John Lennon called upon a place he visited as a child in Liverpool. Strawberry Field was the name of the Salvation Army Children’s Home and Lennon and his friends used to play in the gardens surrounding the home.
Though the building itself was torn town in the 1970s, Beatles fans can still visit the Liverpool site. Below are the strawberry-colored gates, which are adorned with various fan-based graffiti, and in this case a Beatles tribute band!

8. D.H. Lawrence: Renishaw hall

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence is the story of an affair between Lady Chatterly and Oliver Mellows, the gamekeeper of her and her husband’s home, Wragby Hall. First published in 1928, it caused outrage for its saucy plotline and explicit descriptions of sex—so much so it wasn’t published in full in the UK until 1960.

Titillation aside, the fictional Wragby Hall is said to be inspired by Derbyshire’s Renishaw Hall, a 17th-century country house set over 300 acres. It has been home to the Sitwell family since it was built. Although despite this reference, writing in 1933, poet and critic Edith Sitwell who was brought up at Renishaw Hall declared Lady Chatterley’s Lover was a “dirty and completely worthless book.”

9. Georgia O’Keeffe: Ghost Ranch

Modernist artist Georgia O’Keeffe was heavily inspired by the American desert landscape and the cultural history of New Mexico. The artist’s home and studio was in Albuquerque, but she also kept a summer home at Ghost Ranch.

Ghost Ranch is a 21,000-acre retreat and education center located close to the village of Abiquiú in Rio Arriba County in north central New Mexico, United States. Though the artist often painted close-up studies of vibrant flowers, it was at her holiday home that she painted some of her most known landscapes.

The Cliff Chimneys by Georgia O'Keeffe (From the collection of Milwaukee Art Museum)

10. J.K. Rowling: The Elephant House

J.K Rowling first brought us the magical wizarding world of Harry Potter back in 1997. The author’s initial inspiration for the boy wizard came while on a delayed train journey in 1990 from Manchester to London King’s Cross.

But it wasn’t until 1993 though, having moved to Edinburgh, that J.K. Rowling threw herself entirely into the writing of the first book and the author found bags of inspiration at The Elephant House, a tea and coffee shop in the centre of the city. The author sat writing for days at a time in the back room of The Elephant House eatery, which overlooks Edinburgh Castle.

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