Paintings in Film | Individual Directors | Selbstporträt "Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer" | Caspar David Friedrich

Individual Directors

Six film directors will be considered whose films have been variously concerned with the art of painting.


All five of the below developed an interest in painting at an early age two of who went on to study it—Jarman at the Slade, Greenaway at Walthamstow College of Art. Russell studied photography at Walthamstow Technical College and though mostly associated with his numerous biopics about classical music composer also made three films about painters for the BBC in the 1960s. And while it may be surprising that Tarkovsky, Jarman and Greenaway made only a handful of painters biopics between them, their films are replete with painterly images and the use of actual paintings, for example Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow from Solaris (1972). A sixth director is added right at the end for the sake of completion.

Andrei Tarkovsky (1932-1986)

Andrei Rublev (1966)

The nine-minute epilogue with a choral background by Russian composer Vyacheslav Ovchinnikov shows a sequence of details of several of Rublev’s actual icons and is the only part of the film in colour. The first and last few minutes in particular with their dissolves, pans and extreme close ups lend Rublev’s paintings an almost abstract quality. The epilogue itself thereby becomes a sort of triptych, its more ‘medieval’ middle section framed by a modernist beginning and end. The icons shown in order are:


Enthroned Christ

Twelve Apostles

The Annunciation

Twelve Apostles

Jesus entering Jerusalem

Birth of Christ

Enthroned Christ

Transfiguration of Jesus

Resurrection of Lazarus

The Annunciation

Resurrection of Lazarus

Birth of Christ


Archangel Michael

Paul the Apostle

The Redeemer


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Source: YouTube by codholiday

Derek Jarman (1942-1994)

Caravaggio (1986)


Peter Greenaway (1942- )

Greenaway’s films include (tableaux vivants of) paintings by and/or show the influence of Georges de La Tour (The Draughtsman’s Contract), Bronzino and Piero della Francesca (The Belly of an Architect), the pre-Raffaelites and Rubins (Drowning by Numbers), Franz Hals and Dutch still-life (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover), Titian, Girogione, and Bellini (Prospero’s Books), Crevalcore, Desidero and Bellini again (The Baby of Macon), and Utamaro and Hokusai (The Pillow Book) not to mention his own drawings for A Walk through H and The Draughtsman’s Contract (see also Pasco 22). In a sequence from the latter the draughtsman Mr Neville places a painting by the German artist Januarius Zick (1730-97, the transition from Rocco to Classicism) directly in front of Mrs Herbert on a stool to indirectly establish connections between Allegory on the Achievements of Newton in the Field of Optics (1794) and the events so far in the film:


Perhaps Mr Herbert has an eye for optical theory … an interest in the pictorial conceit? … Do you think the characters have something to tell us … Do you think that murder is being prepared?


A Zed & Two Noughts (1985)

Not an actual biopic but does have tableaux vivants of Vermeer’s paintings.


Nightwatching (2007)


Rembrandt’s J’Accuse (2008 documentary)


Goltzius and the Pelican Company (2012 historical film)


Hendrik Goltzius (1558-1616) was a printer, engraver and painter. Along with the previous Nightwatching and soon to be released film on Hieronymus Bosch this represents Greenaway’s triptych on “Dutch Masters.”


PS The OK Doll is the script for an unrealized film about the life-size doll that Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka had made of Alma Mahla which he lived with for three years!


PPS The Greenaway Alphabet (2017 Netherlands Saskia Boddeke)

A documentary by Greenaway’s partner, the multimedia artist, opera and film director Saskia Boddeke, featuring Greenaway and his sixteen-year-old daughter Zoe/Pip, both of whom can be seen at work on sketches, drawings, and small paintings.


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Source: You Tube by dovic


Ken Russell (1927-2011)

All films made for the BBC.


Making an Action Painting (1957) made the work of the Royal College of Art action painter William Green’s controversial and he himself notorious by showing him creating paintings by cycling across a surface saturated with paraffin then scorching the surface with fire. His working methods were parodied in the 1961 Tony Hancock film The Rebel.


Scottish Painters (1959) on Roberts MacBryde and Colquhoun.


Old Battersea House (1961) displays the art of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in a kind of shrine to their work. The 96-year-old owner, the writer Wilhelmina Stirling, was the younger sister of the painter Evelyn De Morgan, and her husband William De Morgan was also part of the circle.


Mr. Chesire’s Traction Engines (1962) on landscapes of steam engines.


Pop Goes the Easel (1962) on the British Pop Art movement.


Always on Sunday (1965) about the late 19th century French naïve painter Henri Rousseau.


Dante’s Inferno: The Private Life of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Poet and Painter (1967) about the relationship between the Pre-Raphaelite painter/poet and his model, Elizabeth Siddal, who also painted.


Peter Schamoni (1934-2011)

All documentaries unless otherwise stated.


Hundertwassers Regentag (1973 about the Austrian)


Caspar David Friedrich (1986 dramatized documentary)


Max Ernst: Mein Vagabundieren—Mein Unruhen (1991)


Botero – Geboren in Medellin (2008 documentary about the painter and sculptor Fernando Botero)


Peter Schamoni was a German film director and producer from an artistic and academic family. His father Victor was one of the very first German film scholars, his older brother Victor jnr. a TV cameraman, his younger brother Thomas an artist and director, and Ulrich active as a script writer, director and actor. His mother Maria published her autobiography in 1983, My Schamonis. The theologian Wilhelm Schamoni and the painter Albert Schamoni were Peter Schamoni’s uncles. Peter Schamoni also directed Niki de Saint Phalle in 1999 about the Franco-American painter, filmmaker and sculptor and her collaborations with her Swiss husband, the kinetics artist Jean Tinguely.


Further information:


Hans Cürlis (1889-1983) 

The filmmaker with a PhD in art history made 87 short pioneering film portraits about the creative process from 1922 right up until the 1960s under the collective title of Schaffende Hände, these ‘Creative Hands’ being the emphasis of the films as we see the art works taking shape in them. Sculptors, cartoonists, caricaturists, artisans and even art forgers appear along with painters like Corinth (painting a landscape), Lesser Ury (drawing a Berlin street in his studio), Grosz (at work on a line drawing), Zille (on his Berlin balcony drawing his Berlin Brat), Dix (drawing a female nude), Oppenheimer, Liebermann, Kollwitz and Slevogt, some of them painting the portraits of Heinrich Mann, Pechstein, Kandinsky and Calder among many others.


Zwei Sprachen einer Kunst

This is a double portrait—as the title says, ‘two languages, one art’—of Ury and Kandinsky. Here is an extract from the part of the film dedicated to Ury (1861-1931), one of the leading representatives of German Impression and an extremely prominent artist of the Weimar Republic, followed by an extract from the part of the film dedicated to Kandinsky:


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Source: You Tube by Karl Hoeffkes


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Source: You Tube by Karl Hoeffkes


Then, an extract from Cürlis’s Corinth film made in the front yard of the painter’s house in Berlin’s Hansa quarter:


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Source: You Tube by Karl Hoeffkes


Finally, a 65-minute German TV documentary From the Studios of the 1920s: The Film Pioneer Hans Cürlis and His Painters Portraits by Joseph Kirchmayer:


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Source: You Tube by Daniel Brannon


Alain Resnais (1922-2014)

These are all black and white short documentaries see also Other Painter Biopics.


Van Gogh (1947 16 mm remade on 35mm 1948)


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Source: You Tube by Cinema do Alunte


Gauguin (1950)


Guernica (1950 in collaboration with Robert Hessens)

The film “moves beyond” the painting Guernica’s “shattered, exploded composition, finding its visual echoes” in all of Picasso’s works. Just like Van Gogh and Gaugin, Guernica ”is not a film about a painting, or paintings” but instead “an attempt to convey an artist’s vision of the world” (Wilson 19).


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Source: You Tuby by Clássico&Cia – Cinema Clássico e Filmes Antigos




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