A selection of films plus one TV episode in which paintings play an important narrative role. What is decisive here is that the paintings featured in the films are crucial in driving the narrative forward and are not just used for background effect.
An American in Paris (US 1951 by Vincente Minnelli)
Each of the sets of the 17-minute ballet sequence towards the end reflects in turn the style of the French Impressionists Dufy, Manet, Utrillo, Rousseau, van Gogh and Toulouse-Lautrec.
Passion (France/Switzerland 1982 by Jean-Luc Godard)
Paintings by Rembrandt, Goya, Ingres, Delacroix, El Greco and Watteau are recreated as tableaux vivants.
Schalcken the Painter (UK BBC 1979 horror film by Leslie Megahey)
Adapted from J Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1839 gothic tale “Strange Event in the Life of Schalken” (sic), the film deals with the work of the 17th century Dutch genre and portrait painter Godfried Schalcken 1643-1706. The influence of Vermeer can be seen in the lighting and set design.
Uncovered (UK/Spain 1994 Jim McBride)
Based on the novel La table de Flandes / The Flanders Panel (1994) by the Spanish writer Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The art restorer Julia discovers a hidden message underneath the paint of the 15th century portrait of a woman and two men playing chess she is working on: Qvis Necavit Eqvitem, “Who killed the knight?” This points to the murderer of one of the characters in the painting, a forefather of the painter’s owner, and this mystery soon has its equivalent in the present when the people involved in Julia’s research are also murdered. In the novel the painting is identified as The Game of Chess oil on wood by the Flemish painter Pieter Huys (1471) yet while Huys did exist he never completed a painting with this name.
The Stendhal Syndrome (Italy 1996 horror film by Dario Argento)
Inspired by the 1989 book of the same name by the Italian psychiatrist Graziella Magherini, which in turn is based on the French writer Stendhal’s experience in the Santa Croce church in Tuscany in 1817, namely a debilitating psychosomatic illness affecting people when they are exposed to works of art. In the film this happens to Detective Anna Manni when she enters a museum, which leads to her being kidnapped by the very serial killer she had gone to Florence to catch.
The Thomas Crown Affair (US 1999 heist film by John McTieman)
Featuring paintings by Monet, Manet, van Gogh, and Pissarro. There is one painting in the style of Cassius Coolidge’s dogs playing poker series, and René Magritte’s The Son of Man from 1964 can be seen several times, above all in the final robbery sequences.
Le Tableau / The Painting (France/Belgium 2011 computer animated film by Jean-Francois Laguionie)
Set within the borders of an unfinished canvas with characters fully drawn and colored, partially completed and only in rough design. There are possible influences here of Matisse, the Fauves, Picasso, Chagall, Modigliani, Manet, Andre Derain, and Bonnard.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (US 1986 John Hughes)
High school student Ferris Bueller wants a day off from school so he talks his shy and neurotic friend Alan into taking his father’s Ferrari. Together with his girlfriend Sloane they go to Chicago for the day, starting out at the city’s Art Institute in a sequence that turns into a metadiscourse on the similar affects painting and film can produce in us:
Source: You Tube by iomelinamela
It is a 29-shot montage sequence including paintings by Picasso, Hopper’s Nighthawks, Rodin’s bronze Portrait of Balzac sculpture, Marc Chagall’s stain glass American Windows. The last twelve shots then show Alan standing in front of and staring at Georges Seurat’s 1886 Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. There is no dialogue, only the unsourced music of the Smiths “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” in an instrumental version by Dream Academy and shot-counter shot between Alan and the little girl in the dead centre of the painting. The director himself explains the personal significance of the gallery, its relevance for the characters, and in particular that he always considered pointillist painting “sort of like making a movie” where the painter has no idea what they’ve done until they step back from it. Alan establishes some kind of connection between himself and the girl: “The closer he looks at the little child the less he sees, of course with this style of painting. The more he looks at it, there’s nothing there.” And this could very well be what Alan wonders about himself: “I think he fears that the more you look at him, the less you see, there isn’t anything there.” And so the final four shots of the girl where she becomes increasingly then virtually invisible—“That’s him.”
Source: You Tube by MonkeyBoyBud
Anamorph (US 2007 by Henry S. Miller)
Source: You Tube by Classic Movies Channel
Willem Defoe plays the reclusive detective Stan Aubray, drawn to investigate the murders of a serial killer whose case reminds him of one he himself worked on a while back. With the use of human bodies, the killer is employing anamorphosis, a painting technique that deliberately distorts the laws of perspective, for example with an anamorphic lens, to create two competing images on a single canvas. The film’s final shots [1:37:00-1:38:35] appropriately have Aubray dying in a chair like in one of Francis Bacon’s 50 or so equally distorted versions of Velázquez’ Portrait of Innocent X (1650) see link for Study after Velázquez’ Portrait of Pope Innocent X from 1953:
Das große Museum (Austria 2014 documentary by Johannes Holzhausen about everyday life in the world famous museum of art history in Vienna)
The National Gallery (France/US/UK 2014 film essay documentary by Frederick Wiseman about the most visited art gallery in the world)
Francofonia (France/Germany/Netherlands 2015 by Alexander Sokurov about the Louvre in Paris during the Nazi occupation)
Beltracchi – Die Kunst der Fälschung (Germany 2014 documentary by Arne Birkenstock about the art forgers Wolfgang and Helene Beltracchi, responsible for one of the biggest postwar forgery scandals)
El sol del membrillo / The Quince Tree Sun / Dream of Light (Spain 1992 by Victor Enrice and the Spanish painter Antonio López García 1936- , who plays himself attempting to paint the eponymous tree growing in his studio’s backyard)
Tatsumi (2011 by Eric Khoo)
Based on the manga memoir A Drifting Life and five earlier short stories by the Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi 1935-2015. A Singapore production with Japanese dialogue animated in Indonesia.
Gerhard Richter Painting (Germany 2011 by Corinna Belz Painter at Work)
Wim Wenders’ The End of Violence (US 1997 with a live recreation of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks)
Shirley: Visions of Reality (Austria 2013 by Gustav Deutsch)
Edward Hopper (1882-1967) took his inspirations from among many other things the cinema and above all cinematography of his time, for example in his use of light and shadow. In turn his paintings influenced individual sequences and/or the whole ‘feel’ of a variety of films. Perhaps the most famous from numerous examples is the Bates Motel in Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which quotes Hopper’s 1925 oil painting House by the Railroad. In Shirley: Visions of Reality Viennese filmmaker, architect and experimental artist Gustav Deutsch recreates thirteen of Hopper’s oil paintings as vignettes that come to life, three-dimensional scenes. The story follows the fictional life of the eponymous red-haired New York actress by means of news clips, music and poems as she takes us through the life, wars and social history of the USA between 1931 and 1963. We see Shirley for the first and last time in a train reading a volume of poems by Emily Dickinson in a reproduction of one of Hopper’s final paintings, 1965’s Chair Car. See first link for Hopper/Hitchcock, second for Shirely‘s website:
Final Portrait (UK1995 Stanley Tucci with Geoffrey Rush as the Swiss modernist sculptor, graphic artist and painter Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966)
Set in the Paris of the 1960s the film depicts Giacometti’s attempt to paint a portrait of his friend the young writer and art lover James Lord as he sits and poses for him.
The Dutch Master (US 1995 short film by Susan Seidelman)
About Teresa the dental hygienist, who stares fascinated at a painting reminiscent of Dutch painter Pieter de Hooch’s Woman Drinking with Soldiers (1658) in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art until one day its scenery and characters come alive and she enters the world of the painting. Not only does Teresa end up reversing the male gaze there
With the kind permission of Christian Stollwerk of ZIEGLER FILM GmbH & Co. KG
the painting also enables her to escape a potentially stifling marriage, providing her with a space in which to indulge her auto-erotic fantasies:
With the kind permission of Christian Stollwerk of ZIEGLER FILM GmbH & Co. KG
While Midnight in Paris (US/Spain 2011 by Woody Allen) features appearances by Rodin, Cocteau, Picasso, Dalí, Ray, Bunuel, Lautrec, Gauguin and Degas there is only one extreme long shot of actual paintings, Monet’s Nymphéas / Water Lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie.