Art

Top 10 Best Artist Films Ever Made

The ties between great artists and motion picture have always been a personal intrigue of mine. It seems the film tends to transcend the artist and his masterpieces from their two-dimensional canvas confines into the conscious popularity of the general public.

I wanted to take this opportunity and go through my personal top 10 list of famous artists depicted in motion picture, and see how this exposure has changed the perspective of the public on their art.

  1. Girl with a Pearl Earring (2004) – This beautiful movie give us a glimpse into the world of Johannes Vermeer in Holland, 1665. The climatic cinematographic treatment left me in awe. You wouldn’t think a movie could take form of a Vermeer painting, but Girl with a Pearl Earring is filmed with an amazing range of luminous glows that evoke the Dutch artist’s masterworks. Of course, it helps that much of the movie centers on Scarlett Johansson whose creamy skin and full lips have a luminosity of their own. Johansson plays Griet, a maid in the household of Johannes Vermeer, who finds herself in a web of jealousy, artistic inspiration, and social machinations. Though the pace is slow, Girl with a Pearl Earring genuinely conveys some sense of an artist’s process, as well as offering many chaste yet sensual moments.
  2. Rembrandt (1936) – This 1936 flick features Charles Laughton who brilliantly captures the inner turmoil of the passionate 17th-century genius of Rembrandt. In Amsterdam of 1642, master painter Rembrandt Van Rijn (Charles Laughton) enjoys a rich, full life in a beautiful, blinding, swirling mist of fame and fortune. But with the sudden death of his beloved wife and muse, his work takes a dark, sardonic turn that quickly offends even his most loyal patrons.
  3. Modigliani (2004) – Andy Garcia stars as the painter Amedeo Modigliani, an Italian Jew, has fallen in love with a beautiful Catholic girl in post World War I Italy and Paris. The story of the movie is almost completely untrue… but there are some particular anecdotes that bring light into the life of this talented painter and sculpture.
  4. Pollock (2000) – Ed Harris directs and stars in a film that depicts his fascination with Jackson Pollock which only equals his physical similarity to the artist. Harris’s devotion assured a work of integrity, honoring the artist’s achievement in abstract expressionism, but at the same time acknowledging that Pollock was a tormented, manic-depressive alcoholic whose death at 44 (in a possibly suicidal car crash) also claimed the life of an innocent woman. The movie has elevated Pollock’s drip art to an American Icon and has sparked a huge lift in prices for Pollock’s masterpieces. Pollock currently holds the record of the most expensive painting ever sold at over $150 million!
  5. Frida (2002) – I debated if I should feature the original 1988 Mexican film or the recent Hollywood remake, I choose the latter because that’s the one I’ve seen, but I heard wonderful reviews for the original so I might have to check it out. Salma Hayek plays the Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo, whose tempestuous life with her unfaithful husband, muralist Diego Rivera, drives the story of Frida. The script spends a long time talking about the greatness of Frida’s paintings, which has transcended her popularity in the art world immensely.
  6. Goya’s Ghosts (2008) – Starring my favorite actress of all time, Natalie Portman, Goya’s Ghosts is a sweeping historical epic, told through the eyes of celebrated Spanish painter Francisco Goya. Set against the backdrop of political turmoil at the end of the Spanish Inquisition and start of the invasion of Spain by Napoleon’s army, the film captures the essence and beauty of Goya’s paintings which is best known for both the colorful depictions of the royal court and its people, and his grim depictions of the brutality of war and life in 18th century Spain.
  7. Surviving Picasso (1996) – Anthony Hopkins stars in this epic which tells the story of Pablo Picasso and his passionate affairs with his many mistresses or muse as he calls them. The story begins in 1943 during the German occupation of Paris. Picasso is in his 60s, and as wild and passionate as a youth. While swearing eternal love to Francoise, his new muse, his path is littered with former mistresses who he pays regular visits to. From the sensual, phlegmatic Marie-Therese, the brilliant Dora, also a painter, whose feelings for him have brought her to a nervous breakdown, to his Russian wife, Olga, a former dancer, whom he has driven to the point of actual madness.
  8. The Impressionists (2006) – Looking back on his life in 1920, Claude Monet recalls the story of the Impressionists – a movement that shook the foundation of the art world. With his fellow painters, Auguste Renoir and Frederic Bazille, they begin a forty year struggle against the Salon, the annual state art exhibition. Monet along with his friends and rivals ultimately find the success that they only dreamed was possible.
  9. Lust for Life (1956) – Appropriately titled, for mere passion seems inadequate when describing this superb fictionalized biography of Vincent Van Gogh. Kirk Douglas is the tormented Dutch painter, whose life is chronicled from his ill-fated stint as a preacher to Belgian miners in 1878, to his Impressionist-inspired artistic awakening and psychological descent to suicide in 1890.
  10. Klimt (2006) – John Malkovich inhabits the role of dissolute artist Gustav Klimt so completely one almost expects to see his wild-eyed features reflected in Klimt’s well-known painting The Kiss. The story is a (very) loose biopic about the tortured life of the Austrian artist, whose deathbed ruminations begin the film and the flashbacks that begin to paint the portrait of his incredible, hedonistic life.

There were many more films done on great artists, these are just my personal favorites. I think some of these movies do a great job portraying what goes on in the artists head as he completes his masterpiece. The synergy between oil paintings and the movies is not an easy task by any measure, but as seen in the aforementioned list of movies, when you have the right combination of a good story and fantastic acting you can achieve great things by merging these two disciplines together.

Amitai Sasson

About the Author

Amitai Sasson of overstockArt.com is an art world traveler on a mission to seek out the beauty and passion of the art world. As an avid enthusiast of art and oil paintings, he contributes to ArtCorner.com as Chief editor and writer.