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


Source: YouTube by codholiday

Derek Jarman (1942-1994)

Caravaggio (1986)


Peter Greenaway (1942- )

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.”


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:


Alain Resnais (1922-2014)


These are all short documentaries.


Gauguin (1950)


Guernica (1950)


Van Gogh (1947 remade on 35mm 1948)


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