Films about Famous Paintings

guy pearce in factory girl

It’s quite a fun game to play, if you have the time: try and spot the famous painting in the movie. Recent examples of this include Andrew Wyeth’s classic “Christina’s World” popping up in the recent Tom Cruise sci-fi flick “Oblivion” (2013), as a subtle side plot.

While there have been plenty of biopics of famous artists through the years, their actual works are rarely given as much screen attention. This isn’t always the case though, as a handful of films put the artist second to the acclaimed paintings that they create.

Top: Guy Pearce as Andy Warhol in “Factory Girl” (2006).
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Top: Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring” (Oil on Canvas, 1665), and below a still from the film adaptation with Scarlett Johansson.

The Girl with the Pearl Earring

One such example of this includes the 2003 movie “The Girl with the Pearl Earring,” starring Scarlett Johansson in a breakout performance as the house maid who inspires Dutch painter Vermeer’s greatest work. Adapted from the bestseller by Tracy Chevalier, the film takes the painting of “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” as the primary plot and focus of the film, delving into the backstory of the mysterious woman who sat for the great Vermeer.

Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring Girl with pearl earring movie
Top: “Senora Sabasa Garcia” (Oil on Canvas, 1806/11) by Francesco Goya. Below: Natalie Portman as Ines in “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006).

Goya’s Ghost

In “Goya’s Ghosts” (2006), a rather weak film by Academy Award winning director Milos Forman as we follow a fictionalised story of what could be the woman behind “Senora Sabasa Garcia,” a haunting portrait and noted painting by the artist. In the film Natalie Portman plays Ines, a merchant’s daughter who poses as a model for Goya. She gets caught up in the Spanish Inquisition and is accused of heresy and anti-Catholic practices. The scenes in the film of Ines posing for Goya in a shawl wrapped around her head, make Portman out to be a striking double for the great “Senora Sabasa Garcia.”

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Top: “Marie Antoinette” by Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun, and below with her husband Louis XVI (Jason Schwartzman) in Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette” biopic.

Marie Antoinette

By taking liberties with history in her punk biopic of French queen “Marie Antoinette” (2006), Sofia Coppola created an inspired mash-up of the classical and the modern. In the film, Louise Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun’s famous court painting of the Queen is recreated with Kirsten Dunst as the model. Coppola uses this re-imaging of the painting in interesting ways: slogans of the people like “Queen of Debt” are scrawled across the paintings punk-style to express the hatred felt by the people of France towards Marie Antoinette.

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Top: Andy Warhol’s silkscreen “Flowers” (Lithograph on paper, 1964). Bottom: Edie Sedgwick (Sienna Miller) and Andy Warhol (Guy Pearce) prepare a fabulous photo shoot in “Factory Girl” (2006).

Factory Girl

The life and times of 60s IT girl and Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick are immortalised in the 2006 biopic, “Factory Girl.” The film beautifully re-creates many of Warhol’s famous pieces of art, including his experimental black and white films and photo shoots. But Warhol will always be known for his pop art screen prints and we get plenty of opportunity to see these creations in the film: Warhol (Guy Pearce) sitting on the silver floor of his “factory” surrounded by cans of paint and dirty brushes.

All film stills and paintings © respective owners.
Christopher Smail

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Christopher is based in the UK, the former assistant editor of Illusion magazine. Follow the author @ and view more articles.