Which Artists Made it to the Cinema?;

With the release over the last twelve months of two films revealing the lives of artists and the 2015 Oscars ceremony just around the corner, I thought it might be fun to look into artists who have previously attracted the attentions of the silver screen.

Artists of the Year

JMW Turner film Poster

Mr Turner 2014

In 2014 we saw “Mr Turner” and “Big Eyes” hitting our cinemas with both receiving nominations and awards. Timothy Spall plays the bizarre life of J.M.W. Turner, the famous eccentric landscape painter. While the other film “Big Eyes” tells the tale of Margaret Keane, who, during the 1960s, created a series of doe-eye images of children, women and animals.

There are some obvious films that everyone will have heard of on this list. Such as “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” a fictional tale about the work and life of Johannes Vermeer. “The Agony and the Ecstasy” a 1965 movie featuring Charlton Heston as Michelangelo. And perhaps Selma Hayek as the volatile, monobrowed Frida Kahlo in the 2002 film “Frida”.

The weird and the wonderful

Considering the tendency for artists to lead weird, obsessive and dysfunctional lives, it is surprising that more stories behind the many wonderful paintings we see on the walls of galleries and churches haven’t made it into film. Although there does seem to be an increasing trend to tell their tales, with at least 12 art movies being made in the last ten years.


2007 Caravaggio Film Poster

Rabble rousing 

One of the natural candidates for inclusion is Caravaggio, twice. The first time directed by Derek Jarman in 1986 and then again in 2007 an Italian production by Angelo Longoni. But then again his cavalier lifestyle, the violent, drunken brawls and his incredible talent were always going to be a cocktail for adventure.

Similarly Amodeo Modigliani, famous for his turn of the century drinking and painting has also attracted the attentions of film makers. Gli Amore di Montparnasse in 1958 and the simply titled “Modigliani” in 2004 tell his tale. He was similarly a talented individual who toured the bars and cafes of Paris in a drug induced haze, eventually dying at the age of 35 in 1920.

Crazed lunatics

Sex, drugs, alcohol abuse and violence are all to often big box office draws and the hedonistic life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, the rape of female Renaissance artist, Artemisia Gentileschi and “Surviving Picasso” all dwell on the darker side of human nature. Along with Van Gogh chopping off his ear (allegedly) and Dali’s often recorded insane outbursts, have made their way onto film.

Frida Kahlo Poster

Frida Kahlo Poster

This is probably because, like in any sphere, sedate images of plein air painting and tantrum free sessions in the studio do not make for good cinema. Not many artist are members of the Temperance Society or those who just said “No” to drugs feature on the cutting room floor.

Although I’ve not seen many of these films, Munch screaming, Pollock madly thrashing around with his brushes and Gaugiun’s syphalitic escapades around the world seem to set the trend for artist movies. And it is for this reason I will never feature in a Hollywood script.

Artist Film List

The list of artist films as I’ve managed to dig out so far stands like this. However, I am more than happy to be notified of any I have over looked or the names of artists you deem to have lived an interesting life and worthy of a film.

  • Mr Turner – J.W.M. Turner 2014
  • Big Eyes – Margaret Keane 2014
  • Renior – Pierre Auguste Renior 2012
  • The Mill and the Cross – Pieter Bruegel 2011
  • Little Ashes – Salvador Dali 2008
  • Caravaggio – Caravaggio 2007
  • Nightwatching – Rembrandt Van Rijn 2007
  • El Greco – El Greco 2007
  • Goya’s Ghost – Francisco Goya 2006
  • Klimt – Gustov Klimt 2006
  • Modigliani – Amodeo Modigliani 2004
  • Girl with a Peal Earring – Johannes Vermeer 2003
  • Frida – Frida Kahlo 2002
  • Pollock – Jackson Pollock 2000
  • Goya – Francisco Goya 1999
  • Love is the Devil – Francis Bacon 1998
  • Artemisia – Artemisa Gentileschi 1997
  • Surviving Picasso – Pablo Picasso 1996
  • Carrington – Dora Carrington 1995
  • Dali – Salvador Dali 1991
  • Vincent and Theo – Vincent Van Gogh 1990
  • Caravaggio – Caravaggio 1986
  • Ovin – Paul Gauguin 1986
  • Edvard Munch – Edvard Munch 1974
  • The Agony and the Ecstasy – Michelangelo 1965
  • Gli Amori di Montparnasse – Amedeo Modigliani 1958
  • Lust for Life – Vincent Van Gogh 1956
  • Moulin Rouge – Toulouse Lautrec 1952

One response to “Which Artists Made it to the Cinema?;

  1. Elizabeth Wholey

    Cool post Neal!

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