Paintings in Film | Biopics of Eight Women Painters | Frida Kahlo

Biopics of Fourteen Women Painters

There are uncanny parallels between the difficulties budding women painters and film directors have encountered breaking into their respective fields. And while progress has been made, it has been an unacceptably long haul.

Fourteen women painters have been the subject of one or more film biopic. Seven of the films now to come were directed by women.


Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)

Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

Mary Cassatt (1844-1926)

Séraphine Louis (1864-1942)

Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876-1907)

Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986)

Dora Carrington (1893-1932)

Maud Lewis (1903-1970)

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)

Leonor Fini (1907-1996)

Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941

Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943)

Margaret Keane (1927- )

Ode Jaune (1979-)


Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia (France/Italy/Germany 1997 by Agnès Merlet with Valentina Cervi)

The Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi was the most important woman painter of her age. Her paintings show a preference for strong, independent women, very often Old Testament heroes like Judith and Jael. Agnes Merlet’s film caused controversy after its release because of the way it depcicted Gentileschi’s relationship to her father Orazio Gentileschi’s fellow painter and friend Agostino Tassi. It has been historically verified that Tassi repeatedly raped Gentileschi whereas the film postulates a love affair between the two. On the other hand the film does convincingly show how 17th century women were the property of their male relatives and virtually totally excluded from careers as painters. In addition, we are offered numerous insights into the various painting techniques employed in that century.

Berthe Morisot

Berthe Morisot (France TV 2012 by Caroline Champetier with Marine Delterme)

Although the age Berthe Morisot grew up in was one where the world of artists was dominated by men, higher class women who could paint was regarded as part of a good education. At the same time they were denied access to professional training and recognition as professional painters. Because Morisot grew up in a well-off middle class family interested in art, she and her sister Edma were able to make the acquaintance of important painters. By doing so they also got the opportunity to take part in first rate painting lessons. The director and her screenwriters Sylvie Meyer and Philippe Lasry concentrate on the years 1865—1872, during which Morisot developed from a gifted amateur into one of the first French Impressionists. Appropriately many sequences show her painting outside in the open air.

Mary Cassatt

Mary Cassatt: An American Impressionist (US TV 1999 by Richard Mozer with Amy Brenneman)

American-born Mary Cassat lived much of her adult life in Paris in the last century, her paintings often creating images of the social and private lives of women with emphasis on the bonds between mothers and their children. She was one of several successful Impressionists at the time. In the film we see how Cassatt’s Parisian solitude is disrupted by the unexpected arrival of her nephew and two nieces, but she soon finds herself inspired and uses the children as models. Cassatt’s teenage niece Katherine provides the narration.


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Séraphine Louis

Séraphine (France/Belgium 2008 by Martin Provost with Yolande Moreau)

Séraphine de Senlis as she was also called after her birth place was one of the leading representatives of so-called ‘naïve/primitive art’ in France (she particularly detested the former designation). The film depicts how the German art collector Wilhelm Uhde unexpectedly discovers the hidden painting talents of his house cleaner Séraphine and decides to further her career just like he did those of Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Rousseau. Uhde equally didn’t “care for the term” naïve and preferred that of “Modern Primitives” (1:02 DVD subtitles). Uhde also nurtured the talents of Marie Laurencin, one of the few women who was able to establish herself in Montmartre as a painter.

Paula Modersohn-Becker

Mit meinen Augen: Die Selbstbildnisse der Paula Modersohn-Becker (Germany short TV documentary by Regie Wilfried Hauke 2007)


Paula Modersohn-Becker: Geschichte einer Malerin (Germany TV by Wilfried Hauke 2007)


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Paula Modersohn-Becker, ein Atemzug (Germany documentary by Nathalie David 2007)


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Paula: Mein Leben soll ein Fest sein (Germany by Christian Schwochow 2016 with Carla Juri)


Paula Modersohn-Becker spent a large part of her childhood in Bremen and decided at an early age to become a painter. In 1898 she moved to the village of Worpswede north of Bremen to continue her education in painting and drawing. Two years later in Paris she first encountered French avant-garde painting. Children, old women and the farming women of Worpswede were the main sources of her inspiration. Only after her early death following the birth of her daughter Mathilde in 1907 did she achieve recognition as an important forerunner of modernism.

Georgia O’Keefe

A Marriage: Georgia O’Keefe and Alfred Stieglitz (USA TV 1991 by Edwin Sherin with Jane Alexander)


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Georgia O’Keefe (US TV 2009 by Bob Balaban with Joan Allen)


This world renowned painter of vulvic flowers, multicoloured animal skulls, and northern New Mexico desert landscapes full of rocks, shells and bones is now an established icon for many women’s movements. Within just one decade she took the male domain of the art world by storm and by the 1920s was already one of the most acknowledges women artists of her time. The Santa Fe New Mexico Georgia O’Keefe Museum (opened 1997) is dedicated to her life, art and legacy. The first film is a studio-bound American Playhouse presentation with Christopher Plummer as her photographer husband Alfred Stieglitz, the second a City Entertainment production in association with Sony Television with Jeremy Irons as the photographer and shot entirely on location in an around Santa Fe.


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Dora Carrington

Carrington (UK 1995 by Christopher Hampton with Emma Thompson)

Dora de Houghton Carrington known generally as Carrington, was an English decorative artist—painting on media as varied glass. tiles, pub signs, and the walls of friends’ homes —and painter of portraits and often of surreal(ist) landscapes. She was also associated with members of the Bloomsbury Group, especially the gay critic and writer Lytton Strachey, and the film concentrates on their relationship. It is divided into six so-called ‘chapters’ covering the years 1915—1932.


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Female Human Animal (UK 2019 by Josh Appignnanesi featuring archive footage of Carrington)

A mixture of documentary and fiction/fantasy, the director’s friend and novelist Chloe Aridjis plays (a version of) herself curating a Carrington retrospective at Tate Liverpool (as she did from 6 March-31 May 2015). See the links below then the trailer and introduction to the film from the director himself:


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Maud Lewis

Maudie (Canada 2106 by Aisling Walsh with Sally Hawkins)

Born on the Yarmouth and Acadian Shore of Nova Scotia, Canada, Maud Lewis spent the last 30 or so years of her life living in a house in Marshalltown. After her death in 1970 and the house’s subsequent deterioration, a group of concerned citizens started the Maud Lewis Painted House Society and eventually saved this valued landmark. In 1984 the house was sold to the Province of Nova Scotia and turned over to the care of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia where the final, fully restored house is on permanent display The film looks at how Lewis overcame the physical challenge of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to beome one of Canada’s premier folk artists.


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Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo, naturaleza viva/Frida Still Life (Mexico 1984 by Paul Leduc with Ofelia Medina)


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Source: You Tube tuFriducha – alas para volar


Frida Kahlo’s Corset (US/Spain 2000 by Liz Crow with Isolte Avila)


Frida (US/Canada/Mexico 2002 by Julie Taymor with Salma Hayek)

Already a legend in her own lifetime, Frida Kahlo has long since achieved mythical status and is one of the outstanding women of art history, having fought for her rightful place in an area until recently almost completely dominated by men. The Frida Kahlo Museum or Blue House in Mexico City (opened 1958) is a historic house museum and art museum dedicated to Kahlo’s life and work. In her film director Julie Taymor makes use of several tableaux vivants filmically staging Kahlo’s paintings, for example Frida and Diego Rivera (1931). In addition there are computer generated/animated versions of among others The Broken Column (1944). Finally, there is the stop-motion Mexican Day of the Dead-inspired dream animated by the Quay Brothers after she blacks out after the street car crash on her way to hospital where she then hallucinates the doctors as skeletons. For further examples and details see Cheshire 69-70.


Leonor Fini

Leoni Fini (Belgium 1987 documentary by Chris Vermorcken on the Argentine Surrealist painter, designer and illustrator)


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


See also Madonna’s Bedtime Story in the Music Videos section, and for a complete filmography see the filmography of Leonor Fini.


Amrita Sher-Gil

Amrita Sher-Gil (India 1969 by B.D Garga, a documentary on the painter’s life and works)


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Charlotte Salomon

Charlotte (Netherlands 1981 by Frans Weisz)


Life? Or Theatre? (Netherlands 2012 by Frans Weisz)


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Margaret Keane

Big Eyes (US 2014 by Tim Burton with Amy Adams)

Margaret Kean became world famous for her melancholy, if at times somewhat disturbing paintings of women, children and animals with large, round eyes. In the 1960s her husband Walter Keane falsely claimed he had done all her paintings and even sold them under his own name. After the case went to court the real artist was awarded four million Dollars in damages.


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Oda Jaune

Who is Oda Jaune? (Germany 2016 by Kamilla Pfeffer Painter at Work)


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Ode Jaune was born in Sofia, Bulgaria and studied at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf from 1998-2003, after which she started to exhibit her work. She has been living and working in Paris since 2008. The German director Kamilla Pfeffer and her camerawoman Magdalena Hutter visited Jaune in her Paris studio and obviously intended a Painter at Work film which unexpectedly turned into an unusual Q and A session.


Further information:


The Guerrilla Girls have been fighting sexism in (the) art (world) since 1984. One of their early posters asked the question of whether women had to be naked to get into the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, pointing out that both under 5% of artists in the Modern Arts Section and 85% of the nudes are women. And in 1971 Linda Nochlin asked and answered the question “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?”


A Woman’s Touch: The National Museum of Women in the Arts (2012) from the Great Museums documentary TV series introduces the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington D.C. It opened in 1987, has the most important collection of art by women in the world, and by now is the only institution in the world doing archival work on women artists. The documentary includes a look at “Feminism and the French Revolution” (08:24—12:40), “Feminine Impressions: A Woman’s Touch” (12:41—19:20), and “Anonymous No More” (19:22—24:04) featuring the work of Georgia O’Keefe, abstract expressionists like Joan Mitchell and Grace Hartigan, figurative artists such as Alice Neel and Audrey Flack, and finishing with Frida Kahlo. The conclusion drawn is that women artists are no longer “totally excised from the history books” (00:20). Art is ultimately seen as “the great common denominator” which everybody can enjoy (00:59).


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Many actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence and Rose Byrne among many others have spoken out against the bias against women in the US film industry as have the following nine female directors:


Nancy Myers

Catherine Hardwicke

Kimberly Peirce

Lexi Alexander

Kathryn Bigelow

Nell Cox

Lynne Littman

Mimi Leder

Betty Thomas


Women Make Movies addresses this under-representation see

and in Germany the Pro Quote Regie association demands the introduction of a quota system when it comes to awarding commissions to make films see


Finally, while Laura Mulvey is a feminist film theorist and Griselda Pollock a feminist art historian and cultural analyst, they have also published in each other’s areas, for example Mulvey on photography (Cindy Sherman) and Pollock on, for example the cinema of Alain Resnais.


Advancing Women’s Foundation Programme


Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence is a 2009 book in English and Italian by the American author, journalist and philanthropist Jane Fortune which describes the history of female artists in Florence and their hundreds of works in the city’s museums or storehouses. It has a number of contributing authors and twenty-six chapters on thirty-five women artists active in Florence. The book was the basis of a TV documentary (2012) see


Invisible Women also led to the creation of the Advancing Women’s Foundation Programme, which in the website’s own words intends to give “a voice to historic women artists” and thereby reclaim “the ‘hidden half’ of Florence’s art. The programme “is committed to safeguarding art by women and rediscovering a vital part of Florence’s forgotten cultural and creative heritage. Over the last decade, AWA has restored over 40 works by women artists from the Renaissance to the twentieth century.”


AWA is equally committed to the complete documentation of all their projects “by producing videos and full-scale art documentaries that help spread the word about restoration and exhibition of art by women.”


Short films about some of these ‘invisible women’ will now be included:


Sour Plautilla Nelli (1524-1588)


Violante Siries Cerroti (1709-1783)

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