Paintings in Film | Other Painter Biopics | Painting of Vincent van Gogh

Other Painter Biopics

Vincent Van Gogh has had the most films made about him followed by Rembrandt van Rijin and Pablo Picasso. The other painters come from Ireland, Argentina, Hungary, Estonia and Russia among many other countries.

 

The order of the list down to Leonor Fini has been determined by the number of films made about the painter.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)

Van Gogh (France1947 documentary Alain Resnais)

A 35mm blown up remake of the 16mm version made the previous year, this was both the first of ten 16mm films on contemporary artists such as Henri Goetz, Hans Hartung and Christine Boomeester and the first of a short film trilogy completed by Gauguin and Guernica (both 1950; all films are black and white). Using a kind of cut ‘n paste technique with musically accompanied images of the paintings along with “the use of tracking shots where the camera moves around…towards…and away” from the paintings, thereby producing “an exhilarating mobility,” makes Van Gogh more like “an animated film” (Wilson17—18).

 

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Source: Pobednik 1985

 

Lust for Life (US1956 by Vincente Minnelli with Kirk Douglas based on the 1934 novel of the same name by Irving Stone and concentrating on his relationship with Anthony Quinn’s Gauguin)

 

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Source: Лилия Давыдова

 

Vincent the Dutchman (UK 1972 by Mai Zetterling and David Hughes, documentary-drama first broadcast on Omnibus 15 October 1972 with Michael Gough reading from the same Van Gogh letters used in Paul Cox’s 1987 version and with a subplot about an actor who is taken over by the role he is playing)

 

Vincent (US 1981 TV film)

A one-man filmed play of Leonard Nimoy’s 1979 adaptation of Phillip Stephens’ Van Gogh directed by Nimoy, who also plays the painter’s brother Theo. The version below was videotaped at the Guthrie Theatre Minneapolis in 1981, produced by Bonnie Burns and directed by her and Nimoy:

 

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Source: You Tube by W. Wilkerson

 

Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh (UK 1987 by Paul Cox with Van Gogh’s letters read by John Hurt)

 

Dreams: Part 5 “Crows” (US/Japan 1990 by Akira Kurosawa with Martin Scorsese as Van Gogh followed through the landscape by a Japanese artist in life-size recreations of the paintings)

 

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Source: You Tube by monohordo

 

Vincent et moi (Quebec1990 by Michael Rubbo, produced by Rock Demers for Lafete and with Tchéky Karyo)

Budding 13-year-old draughtswoman Jo travels back in time to meet (meets the ghost of?) Van Gogh. In this sequence the painter is astonished to learn how many millions of Dollars his paintings go for in 1990!

 

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Source: You Tube by Michael Rubbo

 

Vincent & Theo (US 1990 Robert Altman with Tim Roth)

(US 1990 Robert Altman with Tim Roth and Paul Rhys as his art dealer brother. Set between 1883—91)

Source: You Tube by Eyes on Cinema

 

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Van Gogh (France 1991 by Maurice Pialat with Jacques Dutronc focusing on the last three months of his life in Auvers in 1890)

 

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles (UK Channel 4 TV 2007 by Chris Durlacher with John Simm)

 

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Source: You Tube by olurob

 

Van Gogh: Painted with Words (UK BBC TV drama-documentary 2010 by Alan Yentob with Benedict Cumberbatch)

Every word spoken is sourced from the letters that Van Gogh sent to his younger brother Theo and those around him.

 

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Source: You Tube by Busan26

 

Loving Vincent (UK/Poland 2016 by Dorota Kobiela)

A murder mystery about the artist’s life and death told through Van Gogh’s letters—the fourth film to foreground his correspondence—and interviews with the characters from his own paintings. The actual process of this feature-length painted animation is described as:

 

The actors are filmed on a green screen. The action is then turned into black outline and projected onto the artists’ boards. They paint in the full scene using pictures and Van Gogh references to help them. The artists then photograph their finished painting with a camera, and those paintings are all automatically edited together to create a sequence

 

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Source: You Tube by Sarah Wimperis

 

At Eternity’s Gate (US 2018 by Julian Schnabel with Willem Dafoe)

A look at the time Van Gogh spent in Arles based on the painter’s letters and the director’s interpretation of his memories. Schnabel, who directed 1996’s Basquiat, is also a painter, for example his very large “plate paintings” on broken ceramic plates.

Rembrandt van Rijin (1606-1669)

Die Tragödie eines Großen/The Tragedy of a Great Man (Germany 1920 by Arthur Günzburg with Carl de Vogt)

 

Rembrandt (UK 1936 by Alexander Korda with Charles Laughton)

Korda also produced the film from a screenplay by June Head and Lajos Biró based on a story by the German writer and dramatist Carl Zuckmayer. The film covers the period from 1642 when his wife Saskia dies at the height of Rembrandt’s fame until his death in 1669. Korda originally wanted to make further painter biopics but they never emerged.

 

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Source: You Tube by Charles Ewing Smith

 

Ewiger Rembrandt (Germany 1942 by Hans Steinhoff with Ewald Balser)

With its oblique references to the frustrated artistic ambitions of Adolf Hitler and despicable stereotyping of Jews, particularly disgraceful in view of Rembrandt’s friendships with Jewish people in Amsterdam, for example, the film was made purely for propaganda purposes. The painter is introduced as in Korda’s film at the height of his career receiving the Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch group portrait commission (better known as the Night Watch). Partially shot in Amsterdam and The Hague, the leading art forger of the day was apparently released from prison to make copies of the Rembrandt paintings used in the film.

 

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Source: You Tube by Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid

 

Rembrandt, schilder van de mens/ Rembrandt, Painter of Man (Netherlands 1957 20-minute documentary by Bert Haanstra)

Background narrated, shots of actual Rembrandt paintings are panned and scanned, and as can be seen in the clip we also see how Rembrandt ‘aged’ over the years with shots of ten of his self-portraits (all front views) match dissolved, altered for scale then lap-dissolved from one to the next:

 

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Source: You Tube by Rijksmuseum

 

Rembrandt fecit 1669 (Netherlands 1977 by Jos Stelling with Frans Stelling then Ton de Koff)

This concentrates on the final few years of Rembrandt’s life and the self-portraits he painted then. Much like Korda’s film did, the artist is depicted as a social outsider but with more emphasis on self-contemplation and self-knowledge see the frequent use of the mirror as a symbolic motif. In addition, completed paintings are not represented but instead how they come into existence in the first place. Finally, the director makes ample use of long takes and intertwines facial expression, gesture, colour and light(ing).

 

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Source: You Tube by Cinematic

 

Rembrandt (France/Germany/Netherlands 1999 by Charles Matton with Karl Maria Brandauer)

Brandauer plays the painter from the ages of 28-63. Told in flashbacks from the point-of-view of the aged artist, the film opens as the young Rembrandt arrives in Amsterdam. The director used to be a painter and creator of trompe l’oeil dioramas.

 

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Source: You Tube by Yasser Salama

 

Nightwatching (Canada/France/Germany/Poland/Netherland/UK 2007 by Peter Greenaway with Martin Freeman)

Greenaway’s film dramatizes the idea that the Company of Captain Frans Banning Cocq and Lieutenant Willem van Ruytenburch secretly accuses of murder the people who actually commissioned it. The film goes on to suggest that these irate patrons thereafter enacted a revenge on the artist that subsequently ruined him both socially and financially.

 

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Source: You Tube by TheLyulai

 

J’Accuse (Finland/Germany/Netherlands 2008 documentary by Peter Greenaway

A film essay companion piece to and released one year after Nightwatching in which the director explains the murder conspiracy dramatized there. The 34 ‘mysteries’ are all the 34 painted characters in the art work, and by examining these Greenaway also delves into life in seventeenth-century Amsterdam.

 

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Source: You Tube by Submarine Channel

 

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)

Guernica (France 1950 by Alain Resnais and Robert Heesens)

This short film combines imagery from Picasso’s paintings with other artistic sources, the 1938 poem “La victoire de Guernica” Victory of Guernica” by Paul Èluard read by Maria Casares, and music by Guy Bernard)

 

Le mystére Picasso (France 1956 by Henri-Georges Clouzot cinematographer Jean Renoir Painter at Work)

The production of 20 original works are documented as we see Picasso painting images onto large glass panes from the camera’s viewpoint instead of over the painter’s shoulder as so often in film. In the first half he uses color pens to doodle then switches from ink pens to oil brushes and paper collage. With the aid of stop motion animation and time lapse these images appear before our eyes only to vanish just as quickly as Picasso paints over them or starts a new one only a few minutes later. Mit Hilfe von Stop-Motion-Animationen entstehen die Bilder vor den Augen des Zuschauers und verschwinden ebenso schnell wieder, wenn Picasso sie übermalt oder nach wenigen Minuten mit einem neuen Bild beginnt.Mit Hilfe von Stop-Motion-Animationen entstehen die Bilder vor den Augen des Zuschauers und verschwinden ebenso schnell wieder, wenn Picasso sie übermalt oder nach wenigen Minuten mit einem neuen Bild beginnt.Momente im Prozess. Zeitlichkeit künstlerischer Produktion Momente im Prozess. Zeitlichkeit künstlerischer Produktion Momente im Prozess. Zeitlichkeit künstlerischer ProduktionThe overall effect in Clouzot’s film is that “the screen is transformed into a kind of automatic painting”, which is especially appropriate “for Picasso’s working process since as he works on a painting, he changes his mind about its central subject” (Jacobs 18). For a “Best of” montage see

 

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Source: You Tube by Olivier-Pascal Studio Cigale

 

Seven years earlier the Belgian filmmaker Paul Haesaerts used the same procedure in his short film Bezoek ann Picasso (Visit to Picasso Painter at Work) where the artist “paints various forms (…) on a sheet of Plexiglass stretched between himself and the camera.” Picasso even occasionally stares right into the camera lens through what he is drawing: “Shown against a dark background, it looks as if Picasso draws white lines into the space in which he finds himself” (Jacobs 19):

 

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Source: You Tube by Eyeworks Film

 

F for Fake (France/Iran/West Germany 1974 by Orson Welles)

A [fake?] documentary about fraud and fakery with his then partner with Welles’ partner Oja Kodar sitting for a series of nudes for Picasso.

 

Picassos äventyr/The Adventures of Picasso (Sweden 1978 by Tage Danielsson with Gösta Ekman)

 

El Joven Picasso (Spain 1994 TV mini-series about the life of the young Picasso by Juan Antonio Bardem with Toni Zenet)

 

Surviving Picasso (US 1996 by Merchant Ivory with Anthony Hopkins)

 

Matisse & Picasso: A Gentle Rivalry (US 2001 TV short by Ginny Martin with the voice of Miguel Ferrer)

 

33 diás/33 Days (Spain/Canada/Argentina release date 2017 by Carlos Saura with Antonio Banderas)

Foregrounds Picasso working on his Guernica mural and his relationship with the French-Croatian painter and photographer artist Dora Maar 1907-1997, played by Gwyneth Paltrow

Paul Gauguin (1843-1903)

The Moon and Sixpence (US 1942 Albert Lewin with George Sanders) The original novel of the same name by Somerset Maugham 1919 is loosely based on the figure of Gaugin and inspired by his life.

 

Gauguin (France 16mm 1950 documentary short by Alain Resnais)

A “companion piece” to his earlier Van Gogh, this “adopts the tranquility and composure of Gauguin’s images of Tahitian women” (Wilson18).

 

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For the complete film see

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/xqyh4

 

Lust for Life (US 1956 with Anthony Quinn)

 

The Moon and Sixpence (US 1959 TV adapted by writer S Lee Pogostin with Laurence Olivier)

 

Oviril/The Wolf at the Door (Denmark/France 1986 by Henning Carlsen with Donald Sutherland)

In August 1893, Paul Gauguin arrived back in France from a long stay in Tahiti with 66 canvases but only four francs and mistakenly believed that an exhibition at the Durand-Ruell Gallery in Paris in November of the following year would mark a change in his fortunes. Although the film “does not present a feminist critique of Gauguin’s sexual behavior … at least the women in the film are not depicted as pathetic victims” (Walker 76). The film’s title “Oviril” is Tahitian for ‘savage’ or ‘wild’ and Gaugin also used the name for his 1894 partially glazed stoneware female figure, the goddess of mourning in Tahitian mythology. Donald Sutherland’s son Kevin was to play the painter 17 years later see next film description.

 

Paradise Found (Australia/France/US/Germany 2003 by Mario Andreacchio with Kiefer Sutherland)

 

The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gaugin and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles (UK Channel 4 TV 2007 Chris Durlacher with John Lynch)

 

Gaugin – Voyage de Tahiti (France 2017 Èdouard Deluc with Vincent Cassel)

Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)

The Naked Maja (US/Italy/France1958 by Henry Koster with Anthony Franciosa)

 

Goya—oder der arge Weg der Erkenntnis (GDR/Soviet Union 1971 by Konrad Wolf with Donatas Banionis)

 

Volavérunt (Spain/France1999 by Bigas Luna with Jorge Perugorria)

 

Goya en Burdeos/Goya in Bordeaux (Spain/Italy 1999 by Carlos Saura with Francisco Rabal)

 

Goya’s Ghosts (Spain/US 2006 by Milos Forman with Stellan Skarsgard)

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

Bride of the Wind (UK/Germany/Austria 2001 Bruce Beresford with August Schmölzer)

 

Klimt (Austria/France/Germany/UK 2006 Raúl Ruiz with John Malkovich)

 

Sora no Wot (Japanese animation show 2010 Kanbe Mamoru) see also Elfen Lied (2004)

 

The Woman in Gold (UK 2015 by Simon Curtis with Moritz Bleibtreu)

Helen Mirren plays Maria Altmann in her search to reclaim Klimt’s portrait of her aunt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I. The credits say the film was “inspired by the documentary Stealing Klimt”, UK 2007 60 minutes by Jane Chablani.

Amadeo Modigliani (1884-1920)

Montparnasse 19/The Lovers of Montparnasse (France/Italy/West Germany1958 by Jacques Becker with Gérard Phillipe)

 

Modi (Italy/France 1990 by Franco Brogi Taviani with Richard Berry)

 

Modigliani (2004 by Mick Davies with Andy Garcia)

Jan Vermeer (1632-1675)

Zoo: A Zed and Two Noughts (UK/Netherlands 1985 by Peter Greenaway)

Includes tableaux vivant reproductions of some of Vermeer’s work, in one case even combining Girl with a Red Hat and The Art of Painting.

 

All the Vermeers in New York (US 1990 by Jon Jost American Playhouse Theatrical Films)

The title refers to the fact that of the 30 paintings that can certainly be attributed to Vermeer, as many as eight can be found in New York. Wall Street financial broker Marks falls in love with French actress Anna because she reminds him of Vermeer’s Portrait of a Young Woman (1666-67; in fact, Anna had already seen some reproductions of Vermeer’s work before she went to MOMA). He then follows her from room to room in the museum and introduces himself (one sequence shows Anna in a reproduction/’reenactment’ of Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window 1657-59). A love affair ensues and Mark dies. The film ends with Anna ‘going into’ the painting as the camera tracks into it through Anna’s head then freezes on the woman in the painting for some seconds before the film ends. According to Schönenbach the inherent contemplative peace and quiet of a Vermeer stands in stark contrast to Mark’s hectic and stressful professional life, a life purely concerned with financial gain. He feels closer to the reposing figures of Vermeer’s paintings than to his fellow human beings, but by transferring his obsession onto Anna he ultimately founders on reality (Schönenbach 155). A couple of trailers are available on Vimeo and see also Vermeer & Jost interview with the later including some sequences from the film:

 

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Source: You Tube by ARTVENTURETV

 

Girl with a Pearl Earring (UK/Luxembourg/Netherlands 2003 by Peter Webber with Colin Firth)

Based on the novel of the same name by Tracy Chevalier (1999) and concentrating on the story of Griet, the servant in the Vermeers’ household who (fictitiously) sat for the eponymous portrait.

 

Tim’s Vermeer (US 2013 documentary by Teller)

(Raymond Joseph) Teller’s film about inventor, computer graphics expert and engineer Tim Jenison, who obviously shares Jon Jost’s love of Vermeer though here almost to the point of obsession as he attempts to exactly replicate The Music Lesson (1662-65) with the help of a device he built himself in order to validate his theory that Vermeer painted with the help of a camera obscura, an idea also floated by professor of architecture Philip Steadman in Vermeer’s Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces (2002) and David Hockney in Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Techniques of the Old Masters (expanded edition 2006) both of whom appear later in the film.

 

Amour fou (Austria 2014)

Directed by Jessica Hausner, daughter of the Viennese painter Rudolf Hausner, sister of the costume designer Tanja Hausner and half-sister of the production designer and painter Xenia Hausner. The visual aesthetics of this film about the suicide pact between the German writer Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel in Berlin 1810/11 are decidedly yellow and red and inspired by Vermeer’s paintings.

 

See also

 “He’s the painter of light. Period.”

Jan Vermeer’s works aren’t paintings – they’re frozen films, cinematic dramas in paint and canvas. Jonathan Jones looks at how his enigmatic masterpieces translate to the big screen

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2004/jan/09/1

 Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901)

Moulin Rouge (UK 1952 by John Huston with José Ferrer)

 

Lautrec (France/Spain 1998 by Roger Planchon with Régis Royer)

 

Moulin Rouge (Australia/UK 2001 by Baz Luhrmann with John Leguizamo)

Pierre-Auguste August Renoir (1841-1919)

Ceux De chez nous—Auguste Renoir (France 1915): Directed by Sacha Guitry (1885-1957), French theatre and film actor, director, screenwriter and dramatist.

 

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French Cancan (France/Italy 1954 by John Renoir): An homage to Degas, the Impressionists, and his own father Pierre-Auguste.

 

Renoir (France 2012 by Gilles Bourdos with Michel Bouquet)

This is not only about the painter’s final years at Cagnes-sur-Mer during the First World War, but also Andrée Heuschling a.k.a. Catherine Hessling, the painter’s last model and the first actress to star in his son Jean’s films.

William Turner (1775-1851)

The Sun is God: The Life of J.M.W. Turner (UK ITV 1974 by Michael Darlow with Leo McKern)

 

Mr Turner (UK 2014 by Mike Leigh with Timothy Spalding)

Production background

Mike Leigh stated in an interview with the Tate Gallery that he wanted to make a film about William Turner’s personality, about who and how and where he was. Leigh used sketches and paintings of Turner to recreate the settings that were used in the movie (Leigh Tate). In another interview, he talked about the difficulty rendering Turner’s pictures and paintings (Leigh DP/30). In the same interview, Leigh talks about the accuracy of the film in the sense that however much and long you research “you were not there. So it is an imaginary world anyway” which “is always heightened and distilled, it is never naturalistic or documentary” (Leigh DP/30).

 

Regarding the main story line of the movie, it adheres quite closely to William Turner’s life. The movie somehow relates to the director’s life as well since it shows an aging artist struggling with his project (Leigh DP/30).

 

Cultural Studies Analysis – social aspects

Turner’s legacy for England

William Turner bequeathed the English Nation large parts of his artwork. For the National Gallery, Turner’s bequest was the largest donation of works every made. Most of Turner’s legacy, almost 300 oil paintings and 30,000 sketches and watercolours, is now stored in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain.

 

William Turner set up his first last will and testament after his father had died in 1829 and changed it in 1848 when his state of health had worsened. He then added the collection of all his finished pictures to the inheritance. Turner gave very specific instructions on how and where his paintings should be displayed. They should be held together in the Gallery and shown in their completeness to the public (Leigh Audio Commentary). It took almost a hundred years until all of Turner’s works of art were sorted out. The Tate Gallery generously allowed the director Mike Leigh to research in the archives for the production of the film (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Leigh).

 

There is a sequence in the movie related to this (counter: 01:58:14 – 02:01:42). It is set in Turner’s gallery, which was located next to where he lived. The sequence starts with a full shot at a low angle, followed by a slight upwards tilt, of an elderly man looking closely at Turner’s paintings dressed in fancy period clothing wearing a top hat and a walking stick. The walls of the gallery are painted in red with framed pictures on the walls as well as on the floor. Two buckets are put on the floor to catch water drops falling from the ceiling. There is a small table on the left side of the frame where a cup of tea is standing on a pile of books. The only sourced sounds are the footsteps on the wooden floor. The quietness and length of evokes uneasiness with the viewers, who do not know what is going to happen and awaits some kind of action. They are released from this tension when the camera zooms out and both the housekeeper Hannah Danby and William Turner appear in the frame. Danby is dressed in shabby clothes serving the two men drinks. The source of the light appears in the frame, a roof-light covered by cloths, creating a medium key light. The movie continues with a couple of medium close shots of the three characters’ faces. During the sequence, the visitor to the gallery, the rich businessman Joseph Gillott, offers buy all Turner’s artwork for 100,000 pounds, an enormous sum at that time. But Turner has to decline the attractive offer since he has already bequeathed the British Nation his artwork. Gillott is astonished and cannot comprehend Turner’s answer, and on failing to persuade him eventually leaves the gallery slightly upset. The sequence shows perfectly how stubborn William Turner was in relation to his bequest. It is known that Gillott showed a special interest in Turner’s art, but there is no proof that a sequence like this really occurred.

 

Turner’s legacy for the history of art

In the encyclopaedia Brockhaus, which came out in the late 1930s, William Turner is already mentioned as the forerunner of impressionism. It says there that he wanted to recreate the effect of atmosphere which changed the form of things. It started with him turning towards the dissolving of solid shapes and moving on to a colourful, burning composition of steam, light, mist, sun and fog (Brockhaus 496). With his forward-looking work, he influenced many well-known impressionist painters, like James Abbott Whistler or Claude Monet.

 

Nevertheless, he was a representative of the Romantic style. Significant paradigmatic changes occurred when the era of the Enlightenment was replaced by the Romanticism in the late 18th century. The focus shifted from reason to emotion, from rules to imagination, from the society to the individual and from the city, as the place to be, to the nature. In his book A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, Edmund Burke wrote about the aesthetics of nature, depicting three concepts: the sublime, the beautiful and the picturesque (Wu / Burke).

 

William Turner was strongly affected by these new concepts. He lived a significant time of his life in the countryside, where he was able to experience the beauties of nature. His most frequent themes were seascape motives and landscapes, oftentimes the confrontation of humanity with the forces of nature. Even though most of his artwork can be described as “picturesque”, his “best” and most famous paintings deal with the idea of the sublime. The central aspects of the sublime are obscurity, terror and the supernatural. Turner applied these ideas by showing the vastness of nature by using great distances or heights, by extreme contrasts of light and shadow and by limiting the observer’s perception. Timothy Spall described the sublime in the Bonus Feature The Many Colours of Mr. Turner as the conflict between the beauty and the horror of the nature. One example of a sublime painting by William Turner is the oil painting “Snow Storm – Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps”.

 

The romantic scheme does not only show in Turner’s motives or style, but in his way of painting as well. As can be seen in the movie, he travelled across countries, drawing sketches of landscapes and other motives in the open air and painting his pictures with oil paint or watercolour back at home in his studio.

 

This way of living and painting is shown right at the beginning of the movie (counter: 0:00:34 – 0:02:14). An establishing shot of a picturesque landscape somewhere in the Netherlands immediately follows the opening credits. Taken as a film still, the motive looks much like a painting of Turner himself. The extreme long shot shows the sunrise above a plain field parted by a little stream next to a windmill. The rosy sky takes up a little more than the upper half of the frame while the fields lie in the dark on the lower half. The river, which reflects the morning sunlight, draws a bright line through the dim grassland. The sounds are those of an early morning in the open countryside, twittering birds and the sound of the ripple. Two women dressed in folklore clothing walk into the frame, chatting all along. The camera starts to track the two women carrying pails while moving closer to the water. The closer they come, the louder their voices get. As they reach the height of the camera, it follows them walking by with a panning shot to the left. All the while, a dark little figure appears on the other side of the stream standing in the distance facing the sun. The two women disappear and while their voices are fading off unsourced music starts to play. The following long shot shows the lone figure in the field. After a cut, a medium shot from a low angle shows the figure, who turns out to be William Turner, at close range. The middle-aged man is shown from the side standing in waist-high grass, wearing a top hat and a dark coat and drawing in a sketchbook. He stops for a moment, looks up at the sun and the sky, and continues drawing. After another cut the man’s face is shown from the front in a close up from a slightly lower than eve-level angle, looking very focused stern while trying to capture everything he sees. The sequence depicts Turner’s passion for nature. He spared no efforts to get the perfect motive even if it meant travelling in harsh conditions across countries, exposing himself to the forces of nature or simply getting up early before sunrise to catch the first sunbeams.

 

Turner’s unusual relationships…

…with people from all classes

Thanks to the early acknowledgment of his talent and work, William Turner got to know people of various social backgrounds throughout his life (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Bailey) be it his quite simple and down-to-earth upbringing, his diverse clientele or the members of the Royal Academy. Despite his difficult character he seemed to have got along with most of them pretty well. Leading actor Timothy Spall called him the “daddy of the royal academy” in an interview featured on the DVD. Turner adored the Academy, and they adored him. Even though most of the members were a bit weary of him, they all knew he was brilliant and listened to him attentively (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Spall). In a way, he felt committed to the Academy, because he owed them everything. Nevertheless, the competition between the members was fierce, peaking just before the vernissage on the Varnishing Days. During those days just before the exhibition opened, all the painters would finish their paintings at the Royal Academy, touching up their works and making the very final changes (Costello 123f). It intensified the rivalry between the artists, and Turner was said to have reacted viciously to that (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Francis). An infamous incident occurred in 1832 at Somerset House in London, the former location of the Royal Academy, where John Constable, Turner’s greatest competitor, exhibited one of his most promising paintings next to Turner’s picture. Fearing a defeat, Turner added a big red provocative dot to his fairly unspectacular seascape painting, turning it into a buoy and by doing so making his picture much more exciting and leaving Constable furious. “He has been here and fired a gun”, said Constable afterwards (Jones). This cinematic but real occurrence has found its way into Mr. Turner (counter: 1:11:00).

 

…with his father

William Turner lived with his father for over 30 years. Due to Turner’s mentally ill mother, a strong bond between father and son evolved quite early (Leigh Audio Commentary). After the demand for wigs decreased with the changing fashion in the late 18th century, William Turner, the father, was more than happy to find new work in helping his son in the production process of his paintings. He used to prepare the paints and the canvases by stretching them. He also varnished the completed oil paintings. The father’s death notably affected Turner’s life and health (Shanes 36). Turner set up his first last will and testament only ten days after his father had died in 1829. The following sequence illustrates the close relationship between the two of them (counter: 00:09:00 – 00:12:37).

 

A low medium to full shot shows the housekeeper following Turner’s father walking down the hall of the second floor of William Turner’s house and disappearing into another room on the left side. Hannah Danby, who is dressed in her usual shabby clothes, stops at the end of the hall and peeks into the room where the father had vanished. His voice can be heard from the other room greeting his son cordially, who has just returned from one of his journeys.

 

After a cut the second room, which turns out to be Turner’s workstation, is shown in a full shot. An antique desk crammed with books and other objects is standing against a wall on the left side next to a closed door. A second table is standing on the right in front of a cupboard next to the door through which Turner’s father just walked in. The colours of the room are quite dark and dull, the natural daylight creates a medium key lighting. The camera tracks the father hobbling towards his son, who is standing near the window, preparing his work. The two men are shown hugging each other in a medium shot. The painter calls his father “daddy” and the father his son “Billy boy”, which seems astonishing, if not a little inappropriate, given the fact that they are about 50 and 70 years old! Brushes, paints and easels are standing all around the room, indicating that this is a place of creative work. After talking about Turner’s journey, they kiss and hug each other again, which shows the affection and familiarity between the two of them. The camera tracks them moving towards a desk in front of a window where Turner starts to paint while telling his father about his trip. The light is now much brighter as they are standing right in front of the window and the light source is not at the back, but to the side of the camera. They start talking about Turner’s work and how he needs special canvases, which his father usually prepares. His father tells him that the price for ultramarine has increased again. While Turner leaves the scene to go and take a nap, his father is shown in a full shot pan carrying a canvas from one room to another. The next scene shows the father shaving a pig’s head with the help of the housekeeper, a reference to his former profession as a barber. After a cut the old man is shown from a high angle medium shot and the camera tracks him walking up the staircase. The next scene is set in Turner’s bedroom where a full shot shows him lying on his bed while his father comes in to wake him up. A mirror, standing behind the bed, reflects Turner’s folded hands, drawing attention to his work tools. The next cut refers again to the father’s former profession as he shaves his son, shown in a medium close shot. It is also a funny parallel to the prior scene where he shaved the pig’s head. Father and son seem to be getting along very well, chatting and laughing all the while.

 

The sequence reflects the close relationship between William Turner and his father. Not only was his father a great help and influence in Turner’s private life, but also of great importance in the production process of his paintings.

 

with his housekeepers

William Turner led a very reclusive lifestyle. However, some assumptions about his private life can be made on account of the portrayal of his character. Trusting the widely held belief that Turner had a romantic relationship with Sarah Danby, it is assumed that he was the father of her two daughters Evelina and Georgiana (Shanes 23). Another assumption, indicated by Turner’s testament, is that Sarah Danby’s niece Hannah Danby was the mother of these two girls. She had been serving Turner as a housekeeper from the 1820s until his death. After he died, Turner left her a significant amount of money and the right to stay in his house until her death, which could be an indicator for the previous speculation (Shanes 23). It is also possible that William Turner was not the father of the two girls but instead their brother since his father bore the same name.

 

Hannah Danby, Turner’s long-time housekeeper, has been described in various reports as a pitiful woman people felt sorry for. They were even alarmed and scared at the sight of her because she was disfigured (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Atkinson). According to the director Mike Leigh, the sexual relationship between the painter and his housekeeper was not based on historical evidence, but seemed instead quite natural and very probably (The Many Colours of Mr. Turner / Leigh).

 

After 1933 a new companion entered Turner’s life. For years, the painter had been visiting the small town of Margate where he used to stay with Sophia Caroline Booth and her husband, who died in 1933. The relationship between Turner and Booth started only shortly afterwards. Booth took care of her own sustenance during their relationship, which lasted for 18 years, buying a house in Chelsea from the money that she had saved (Shanes 43). They even moved together into that house where they lived until Turner died in 1851 (Shanes 40).

 

Conclusion

The movie Mr. Turner is an artwork itself shot in a “turneresque” manner, focusing especially on light and colour just like Turner did in his paintings. The movie is a milestone in the history of British period dramas, a genre which includes other biopics like A Bright Star, about the English Romantic poet John Keats, or Young Victoria, about Queen Victoria.

 

Turner’s oeuvre played a significant role in the cinematic depiction of his life, just like Keats’ poetry did in A Bright Star. The use of the main characters’ work as a stylistic device is a crucial element in these two biopics. Keats’ poetry is often used as a voiceover while Turner’s paintings can be seen in the majority of the movie’s settings. There is yet another characteristic that these two biopics have in common, which is that they both show the end of their “hero’s” lives. Both Keats and Turner die before the film ends, and the spectator gets to see what happens to the people that are left behind, especially to their “girlfriends”, since neither Turner nor Keats was married but in a relationship. By showing the mortality of the hero’s body, the immortality of his genius comes to the fore.

 

Nevertheless, both Mr. Turner and A Bright Star focus on the private lives, especially the relationships, of these two representatives of the Romantic period. Their weaknesses are contrasted with their strengths, their oftentimes ugly personality traits come face to face with the timeless beauty of their work. And that is what leaves the spectator in awe, seeing a “normal” human being creating immortal works of art.

 

Bibliography

Literature

Costello, Leo. J.W.M. Turner and the Subject of History. London&New York: Routledge, 2012.

Der Neue Brockhaus: Allbuch in vier Bänden und einem Atlas. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1938.

Shanes, Eric. J.M.W. Turner. London: Studio Editions, 1990.

Wu, Duncan. Romanticism: An Anthology. West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.

 

Articles

Leigh, Mike. Interview with The Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/oct/05/mike-leigh-mr-turner-enigmatic-character

National Gallery. The Turner Bequest.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/history/the-turner-bequest

 

Videos

Leigh, Mike. Audio Commentary DVD. Special Treats Productions, 2014.

Leigh, Mike. Interview. Tate, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnMgmzH1koQ

Leigh, Mike. Interview. DP/30, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CDfjMj5DLWM

The Many Colours of Mr. Turner. DVD Bonus Feature. Special Treats Productions, 2014. Featuring Mike Leigh, Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey and Clive Francis.

The author Stella Aurelia Berg is a BA student of International, Business and Cultural Studies at the University of Passau, Germany.

Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918)

Pirosmani (USSR 1969 by Giorgi Shengelaya with Avtandil Varazi as self-taught Georgian primitivist painter Niko Pirosmani)

 

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Arabesques on the Pirosmani Theme (USSR 1986 by Sergei Paradschanow)

Domínikos Theotokpoulos (1541-1614)

El Greco (Greece 2007 by Yannis Smaragdis with Nick Ashdon)

 

El Greco (Italy 1966 by Luciano Salce with Mel Ferrer)

 

Egon Schiele (1890 – 1918)

Egon Schiele – Exzesse (Austria/Germany/France 1980 by Herbert Vesely with Mathieu Carriére)

 

Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen (Austria/Luxembourg 2016 by Dieter Berner with Noah Saavedra)

 

René Magritte (1541-1614)

Rene Magritte: A Dramatized Documentary (UK BBC2 Ominbus 1979 by David Wheatley)

 

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Monsieur René Magritte (France documentary by Adrian Maben 1978 with childhood memories, paintings and old movies of the artist along with incidental music composed and performed by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters)

 

Monsieur René Magritte (2009 France docu-fiction by Henri de Gerlache on the occasion of the opening of the new Magritte museum in Belgium)

Leonor Fini (1907-1996)

Leonor Fini (Belgium1987 documentary by Chris Vermorcken on the Argentine surrealist painter, designer and illustrator)

 

The Cruel Legend (France 1951 short film by Alexandre).

 

See also:

 

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And for a complete filmography see the filmography of Leonor Fini.

 

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)

Pollock (US 2000 by Ed Harris, who also plays Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s wife, the painter Lee Krashner, is played by Marcia Gay Harden)

 

Jackson Pollock (US 1951 short film by Paul Falkenberg and Hans Namuth Painter at Work)

Here the artist’s “action painting involved a more physical dimension and also implied a new relation between the painting and its creation process” (Jacobs 19):

 

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One film per painter:

Une vistite au Louvre (2004 Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet)

A companion piece to au Louvre (2004 Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, a companion piece to their earlier Cézanne from 1989. Both films are based on the chapter “Le Louvre” from the Provencal writer and art critic Joachim Gasquet’s book Cézanne: A Memoir with Conversations (1897-1906) which recounts the painter’s visit to the Louvre accompanied by the young Gasquet. In the 2004 film we see Cézanne in the Louvre strolling past painters by his artist colleagues. Julie Kotai speaks the comments Gasquet attributed to Cézanne about the paintings. There have been at least five documentaries about Cézanne.

 

Further information: http://sensesofcinema.com/2009/feature-articles/on-straub-huillets-une-visite-au-louvre-1

 

Óscar: Una pasión surrealista / The Colour of Destiny (Spain 2008 by Lucas Fernández with Joaquim de Almeida as a forgotten icon of French surrealism, Spanish painter Óscar Dominguez 1906-1957)

 

Surmatants / The Dance of Death (Estonia 1991 by Tonu Virve with Hendrik Toompere Jr. as Tizian 1477-1576)

 

Csontvary – Lebensbilder eines Malers (1980 by Zoltán Huszárik with Itzhak Finzi as the Hungarian avant-garde painter Tivadar Csontyváry Kosztka 1853-1919)

 

Ligabue (Italy 1978 by Salvatore Nocita with Flavio Bucci as the Swiss-born Italian naíve painter Antonio Ligabue 1899-1965)

 

The Passion of Marie (Denmark 2012 by Bille August)

With Birgitte Hjort Sorensen and Soren Saetter-Lassen as Marie and Peder Severin Kroyer respectively (1867-1940 and 1851-1909), two of the Danish Skagen Painters, a community of Danish and Nordic artists from the place of the same name.

 

The Mill and the Cross (Poland/Sweden 2011 Lech Majewski with Rutger Hauer as Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1525-1569)

Much of the film is a restaging of Bruegel’s 1564 painting The Way to Calvary. In 2005 writer and art critic Michael Francis Gibson saw Lech Majewski’s Angelus (2001) in a cinema in Paris and afterwards gave him a copy of his book The Mill and the Cross: Pieter Bruegel’s Way to Calvary, an analysis of this painting published in 2000. They then both came up with the idea of writing a screenplay together. Gibson and Majewski also collaborated on a second, expanded edition of The Mill and the Cross that combines images from the painting and Gibson’s text with film stills. It was published on the occasion of the film’s first showing by BOSZ Publishing House in 2010 with an introduction by Angelus Silesius see

 

http://themillandthecross.com/files/bruegel1.pdf

 

Note that Lech Majewski helped develop as a project and write the screenplay for Basquiat (1996), eventually gaining a credit as co-writer and co-producer (see section on Queer Biopics).

 

My Nikifor (Poland 2004 by Krzysztof Krauze with Krystyna Feldman as the Lemko folk and naïve painter Nikifor 1895-1968)

 

Crumb (US 1994 by Terry Zwigoff as the American cartoonist Robert Crumb 1943- )

 

Summer in February (UK 2013 by Christopher Menaul with Dominic Cooper as the English horse painter Alfred Munnings 1878-1959, who in one sequence can be seen painting his The Morning Ride and its rider, Florence Carter-Wood, in a Cornish copse)

 

Satie and Suzanne (Canada 1994 dance film by Tim Southam)

Veronica Tennant as the French painter Suzanne Valadon 1865-1938 who had an affair with the French composer Erik Satie. Featuring the Circle de Soleil.

 

Edvard Munch (UK 1974 by Peter Watkins with Geir Wesby as Edvard Munich 1863-1944)

 

My Left Foot: The Story of Christy Brown (Ireland 1989 by Jim Sheridan with Daniel Day-Lewis as the Irish painter Christy Brown 1932-1981)

 

Every Picture Tells a Story (UK 1983 by William Scott’s son James with various actors as the Scottish still life and abstract painter 1913-1969)

 

Further information: http://film.thedigitalfix.com/content/id/76518/every-picture-tellsstory-at-the-bfi-southbank-in-may.html

 

Effie Gray (UK 2014 by Richard Laxton screenplay by Emma Thompson)

Tom Sturridge plays the English painter, illustrator and co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood John Everett Millais—the film revolves around his triangular involvement with the Victorian art critic John Ruskin and his wife Euphemia “Effie” Gray.

 

Cézanne et moi / Cézanne (France 2016 by Danièle Thompson with Guillaume Gallienne)

The “moi” of the original French title is the 19th century realist novelist Émile Zola, and the film depicts the relationship between the writer and the painter until it ended in an irreconcilable quarrel. Cézanne did a Portrait of Émile Zola in 1864 followed five years later by la Pendule noire / The Black Marble Clock, a clock without hands as a sign of time standing still which could also be regarded as a comment on their hoped-for eternal friendship. Yet when Zola portrayed the life of the failed painter Claude Lantier in his 1886 novel L’œuvre / The Masterpiece as part of a fictional account of their friendship, Cézanne considered this a betrayal and they parted company for good.

 

De werkelijkheid van Karel Appel (The Reality of Karel Appel short film West Germany 1962 by Jan Vrijman Painter at Work)

The film “features the artist flicking paint at a glass screen in a frenzy of apparent creativity accompanied by a Dizzy Gillespie soundtrack” (Jacobs 19):

 

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Gerhart Richter Painter (Germany 2011 by Corinna Belz Painter at Work) see the official website then a trailer:

http://www.gerhard-richter-painting.de

 

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Source: You Tube by NOWNESS

 

Werk ohne Autor (‘Work without an Author’ 2018 by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) is based on Jürgen Schreiber’s Ein Maler aus Deutschland. Gerhart Richter. Das Drama einer Familie with Tom Schilling as Kurt Barnert, who is closely modelled on Richter:

 

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Neo Rauch – Gefährten und Begleiter (Germany 2106  by Nicola Graef Painter at Work)

The director accompanied the painter at work, a member of the New Leipzig School, from 2013—2016 and also observed the critical exchanges with his wife, the painter Rosa Loy. The German title means ‘companions’ and ‘those who accompany someone.’ See the official website then a trailer.

http://www.neorauch-derfilm.de/#home

 

 

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Source: YouTube by Eros Renzetti

 

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