Art in Movies

Art Reflections

Art in Film

When we bring a piece of art into our lives sometimes it serves as a focal point, while other times it adds a touch of beauty to the environment. Sometimes, it is the inspiration around which the atmosphere of the space is created.  The same is true for art in movies.  There have been movies written entirely about a piece or an artist.  In other movies we barely notice the works, but they add an air of sophistication to the background.  Occasionally, a writer or director will use artwork to build a character or scene, without it playing a prominent role or even making an appearance.

One example of art playing a leading role in a movie is Woman in Gold (2015). The painting in the center of this film is Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.  The story follows, Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish refugee in her fight against the Austrian government to recover a painting of her aunt that had been stolen by the Nazi’s during World War II.  The events in the movie are based off of a true story.

Another painting that was the star of a major motion picture was Girl with the Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer.  The movie of the same name was released in 2003 and is an adaptation of the novel by Tracy Chevalier. In this movie both the artwork and the artist take center stage.  This film portrays the friendship that develops between Vermeer and a young woman working in his house.  In the movie the young maid becomes the model for his famous painting.

Other times art plays a much more subtle role in movies.  In I am Legend (2007) both Starry Night and Road with Cypress and Star by Vincent Van Gogh can be seen in the main character’s home.  Titanic (1997) quietly displays Claude Monet’s Water Lilies and Edgar Degas’ Star Dancer on Stage, both pieces can be seen in the character Rose’s room.  A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat can be seen in an iconic scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986).  While these pieces are acknowledged and admired in these films, they do not play a prominent role in the movie, but serve to add beauty to the scenes.

Art can also serve as inspiration for characters in movies without making an actual appearance.  For horror director Andy Muschietti artwork from Amedeo Modigliani played a role in developing the physical appearance for characters in Mama (2013) and played an actual role in a scene in his 2017 adaptation of It. In an interview with The New York Times Muschietti describes how Modigliani inspired the scene in It. When asked about the specific scene he said “It’s a literal translation of a very personal childhood fear. In my house, there was a print of a Modigliani painting that I found terrifying. And the thought of meeting an incarnation of the woman in it would drive me crazy.”  Later in the interview he goes on to elaborate on Modigliani, “He often does these portraits with elongated characters. His vision of humans were with elongated necks, crooked faces and empty eyes most of the time. It was so deformed that as a child, you don’t see that as an artist’s style. You see it as a monster.”


This list barely scratches the surface of paintings that can be found in cinema.  Whether as the star, or simply to add a touch of beauty and sophistication, art and film have formed a partnership throughout the years.  Has your favorite piece ever made in into a movie?

About the Author

Kara graduated from Emporia State University with a BA in History. She enjoys researching a variety of historical topics, from American History to the Renaissance. In her spare time she relaxes by spending as much time as she can in the outdoors with her family.