Nine Movies About Famous Painters

Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock

Cinema has long held a fascination for telling the stories about celebrated artists. I'm not sure if this has much to do with the visual thrill of watching someone paint, or the scandalous, tragic lives artists often live, but it certainly does have something to do with vain movie stars who simply must channel the spirits of their tortured heroes to the big screen (while preferably winning an Oscar in the process) and so can get the biopics about their vaguely lookalike subjects greenlit. Tellingly, the films themselves are almost never hits: the average moviegoer still couldn't give a hang about them silly long-hairs. But as long as history provides us with unhappy, abusive, depressive, suicidal and alcoholic painters - some of whom managed to do brilliant work - filmmakers and actors will continue to exploit their sad stories.

  1. Surviving Picasso (1996, James Ivory). Anthony Hopkins as Pablo Picasso. Other onscreen artists: Joss Ackland as Henri Matisse. By the way, Hopkins has played nearly 20 historical characters on film and TV, possibly the most of any actor. He's also played Hitler, Nixon, and Mussolini.
  2. Frida (2002, Julie Taymor). Salma Hayek as Frida Kahlo. Other onscreen artists: Alfred Molina as Diego Rivera, Ashley Judd as Tina Modotti, Antonio Banderas as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Omar Rodriguez as Andre Breton.
  3. Lust for Life (1956, Vincente Minnelli). Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh. Other onscreen artists: Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin, David Leonard as Camille Pissarro, Jerry Bergen as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. There have been over a dozen depictions of Van Gogh in the movies; the most notable other example is Tim Roth in Robert Altman's Vincent & Theo.
  4. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965, Carol Reed). Charlton Heston as Michelangelo.
  5. Pollock (2000, Ed Harris). Ed Harris as Jackson Pollock. Other onscreen artists: Marcia Gay Harden as Lee Krasner, Val Kilmer as Willem de Kooning, Stephanie Seymour as Helen Frankenthaler, Tom McGuinness as Franz Kline.
  6. Basquiat (1996, Julian Schnabel). Jeffrey Wright as Jean Michel Basquiat. Other onscreen artists: David Bowie as Andy Warhol. Notable as the one film about a famous painter actually directed by another famous painter.
  7. Moulin Rouge (1952, John Huston). Jose Ferrer as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Other onscreen artists: Christopher Lee as Georges Seurat.
  8. The Wolf at the Door (1986, Henning Carlsen). Donald Sutherland as Paul Gauguin. Other onscreen artists: Yves Barsacq as Edgar Degas. Trivia note: Sutherland's son Kiefer stars as Gauguin in an upcoming film called Paradise Found.
  9. Modigliani (2004, Mick Davis). Coming soon: Andy Garcia as Amedeo Modigliani. It keeps on going, folks.