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Tuesday
Apr 07 2015

Masterpieces: 5 Works of Art That Deserve Their Own Movie

Abstewin the gallery to talk artworld films.

This past week saw the release of not one but two true life films set in the art world.Rather than traditional artist biopics,both films focus instead on the life of a particular painting's subject matter or the history of the painting itself.Woman in Gold(which opened in the top ten despite its limited theater count) stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann,a Holocaust survivor.She fought for over a decade in court with the Austrian government to become the rightful owner of Gustav Klimt'sPortrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.The painting was of her aunt and it was stolen from her family by the Nazis during WWII.The long-delayedEffie Grayrevolves around the unhappy wife (Dakota Fanning) of art critic John Ruskin (Greg Wise) in Victorian England.Apparently their marriage was never consummated and Effie became involved with the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais (Tom Sturridge) and was the subject of some of his paintings.

Biopics about artists (Frida,Pollock,Mr.Turner,Lust for Life,the originalMoulin Rouge,and many more over the decades) have found favor with the Academy.It will be interesting to see if these new films begin a trend for movies about the backstories of famous paintings,rather than the artist who painted them.

Since Hollywood is always in need of more interesting and diverse source material,here are 5 works of art that would make movies as pretty as a picture...


Leonardo Da Vinci'sMona Lisa

Klimt's painting is referred to several times in the film as the AustrianMona Lisaand the DutchMona Lisa,Vermeer'sGirl With a Pearl Earring,received her own film back in 2003 with Scarlett Johansson.So has there really never been a film about the real thing?The most famous painting in the world,da Vinci's woman with the enigmatic smile is usually purported to be a study of Lisa del Giocondo,an upper-middle class wife of a cloth merchant in early 16th century Florence.But it wasn't until 2005 that del Giocondo was actually confirmed as the famedMona Lisa.Da Vinci's painting of her was commissioned at a time he had no income and del Giocondo never even got to own the finished work.The artist considered it unfinished and carried it with him throughout his life until the King of France acquired it from him later that century.Perhaps there has never been a film about del Giocondo because she lived a very ordinary life,and little is known about her beyond that she married at 15,had 5 children,and died in a convent in her 60s.Perhaps the best way to tell her story is to show the everyday woman and her goings-on,I'm thinking Mia Wasikowska,so good at giving her character's rich inner lives while remaining slightly mysterious,but then to also make theMona Lisaitself a character.Have Sarah Polley,who has previously excelled in telling woman's stories inAway From HerandTake This Waltzand juggled multiple storylines withStories We Tell,show the extraordinary journey the painting has taken over the decades to make Lisa del Giocondo a legend.

Manet'sOlympia
The nude has always been an art staple,but when Édouard Manet displayed his paintingOlympiaat the Paris Salon in 1865 it was a scandal (and Olivia Pope wasn't around to change the narrative).People were shocked that instead of a classical,idealized woman in the nude,the painting was clearly of a modern-day prostitute and one so blatantly staring back at the viewer with no shame of her profession.And with Manet's flat,modern style (her body is virtually free of shadows),it was a style of painting paired with the subject matter that viewers were not accustomed to seeing.Manet had caused a similar sensation only a few years earlier with his paintingThe Luncheon on the Grassin which a nude woman lounges alongside two fully clothed men.And the model used for both of these paintings was a woman named Victorine Meurent.She was not an actual prostitute,but a professional artist's model (she had also posed for Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec) and a painter in her own right who exhibited 6 times at the Salon.She was determined to make her mark in the art world on her own merits and was determined to be seen as more than the whore she was labelled.Her story would be a fascinating one to bring to the screen.PerhapsJane Campionin the director's chair?And it's not hard to picture Léa Seydoux in the role of Meurent.An actual French actress would lend some authenticity to the story and she's certainly not afraid of nudity.


John Singer Sargent'sPortrait of Madame X
Apparently the French were easily shocked by paintings back in the 19th Century because when Sargent displayed his portrait of socialite Virginie Gautreau at the Salon in 1884,it caused a sensation.The original painting had her right strap fallen over her shoulder,but he later repainted it at the insistence of Gautreau's family (her own mother implored Sargent not to exhibit the painting).People were appalled by this blatent display of sensuality,especially of a woman so visible in high society.Gautreau was renowned for her beauty and already a favorite subject of gossip.She was reported to have had affairs and used comestics like lavender powder on her alabaster skin and henna in her hair - the sort of thing that good women simply didn't do.The painting caused such an uproar that Gautreau removed herself from society for a time.The part would be perfect forNicole Kidman(who recreated the painting for Vogue back in the '90s -seen above),but I could also see Keira Knightley or Elizabeth Debicki taking on the fashionable debutante as well with Joe Wright at the helm.

Georges Seraut'sA Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte – 1884
With this one you don't even have to start from scratch.It already has the pedigree of Stephen Sondheim and his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical based on the pointillist masterpiece by Georges Seurat,A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte.The musical is broken up into two self-contained acts.The first is set in the 1880s as Seurat paints the scene with his mistress Dot as muse and the lives of each of the figures in the painting given a backstory.The second act focuses on a modern-day artist also named George that is the great-grandson of Seurat and Dot,struggling with his own art.The musical deals with legacy and what we leave behind after we've gone.So far the stage to screen adaptations of Sondheim's work haven't been entirely successful (casting non-singers inSweeney Toddand severely altering the story ofInto the Woods),but a film version of this could still work.Instead of splitting the two storylines in half,they'll need to be integrated and have the characters from each time period interact with each other.The original production had Mandy Patinkin as Seurat and George and Bernadette Peters as Dot and George's grandmother Marie.For a film version,how about Jake Gyllenhaal (who has been trying to star in a musical).He has the right intensity and showed inEnemythat he can play multiple roles. And hisBrokeback MountainandLove and Other Drugscostar Anne Hathaway could work as Dot.

Let's keep go-to director of movie musicals Rob Marshall away from this one.How about another Oscar winner who often integrates music into his films: Jonathan Demme.

Finally,let's talk aboutThe Theft from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum


In the early morning hours of March 18,1990,two men disguised as police officers entered Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner museum,tied up the security gaurds,and stole 13 works of art from the museum's collection.They included Vermeer'sThe Concert,two paintings from Rembrandt (including his only known seascape),a portrait by Manet,and sketches from Degas.25 years later none of the art work has been recovered and empty frames still hang in the museum where they once were.It sounds like the sort of real-life mystery that David Fincher could make into a thrilling film.But the event itself is hardly enough for an entire film.Why not have the film also flashback to when Isabella Stewart Gardner,an eccentric Boston socialite and art collector that was fodder for tabloids (she once wore a Red Sox headband to a Boston Symphony concert and was rumored to have her tea in the nude),acquired each of the works.It would be a wonderful part for an idiosyncratic actress like Shelley Duvall (who deserves a comeback) or even Tilda Swinton.And also have the film include the many leads and dead-ends  since the theft (in 1997,Boston HeraldreporterTom Mashbergwas allegededly taken to a warehouse in Brooklyn and given paint chips from Rembrandt's painting) to give the unsolved case suspense.

What subjects from paintings or fascintaing backstory from a work of art do you think are deserving of a film?

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Reader Comments (17)

I am DESPERATE for that last film to be a movie.It sounds utterly fascinating!

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn T

"Sunday in the Park with George"is NOT the name of that painting.Come on,Abstew!It's called "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte".For a post devoted to paintings,that's kind of embarrassing.

That said,I would not be surprised if it is made into a film within the next ten years.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterMia

Great post abstew,I like movies about artists but I think I love movies about art heists even more.
The theft from the Boston museum sounds interesting - have you read "The Goldfinch"?
I love heist films and I like it when they incorporate a satiric viewpoint on the art world itself.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I love the idea of a Mona Lisa film,but it unfortunately reminds me that I can't summon up the name of any young contemporary Italian actresses to play the lead.After spending some time basking in the long rays of Sofia Loren,it's worth asking the Film Experience...who are the rising Italian divas of today?亚博主页

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

We can cross the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist off the list because it was already filmed for an episode of "Drunk History"and for Boston the drunken version of a story is the official version

April 7,2015 | Unregistered Commentermoe

Moe-- Ha!I think all the Drunk History versions should be the official versions...

LadyEdith--putting-the-painting-back scene in The Thomas Crown Affair is the best in terms of great art heist movies.I could watch it (and listen) on endless loop.

I'm sure the recent novel,The Art Forger (fiction,which incorporates the real Gardner heist),has already been scooped up for a movie deal.

And for film AND art lovers,The Art of the Steal is a fascinating documentary about who got control over Barnes' billion dollar collection of art in Philly.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPam

This oneis as famous as theMona Lisaand has an intriguing making-of story.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I would buy a ticket for any of these art movies

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

mia - i do know that's not the name of the actual painting (it wasn't my edit...) and i've actually seen it in chicago.i made the correction.

san francinema - i was trying so hard to think of an italian actress or even an italian-american actress that would work,but couldn't think of any.(and no marisa tomei in my cousin vinny doesn't count...) when i thought of lisa's smirk,i kept seeing mia's in my head...

i haven't read goldfinch yet,but it's been on my list to read.i should make it my next.i'll have to add the art forger as well!thanks,everyone!

April 7,2015 | Registered Commenterabstew

What a fun post!

I've been in Spain for the past few weeks,touring tons of art museums.I'd love to see a movie that takes place in The Garden of Earthly Delights.I only request that it is NOT directed by Tim Burton.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

@San FranCinema: I can't pretend to be an Italian cinema expert,but young Matilde Gioli was excellent in this year's Italian Oscar submission 'Human Capital';I could definitely see her in the part.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

If we're talking the movie of Sunday in the Park with George?I'd want it to do the Osmosis Jones thing,where half the movie is animated pointillism with George Seurat and company and the other half the live-action modern day and they never really touch outside of one big moment very close to the end.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Anjelica Huston is a Boston socialite under Wes Anderson's direction.Though a Shelley Duvall version with Fincher directing is what we really want.Swinton is already a boring choice.Not Streep boring but expected.

April 7,2015 | Unregistered Commenter3rtful

Mia & Abstew -- SORRY ABOUT THAT.I was editing because there was a coding problem and was thinking about Sondheim and musta made a freudian slip.

April 7,2015 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Contemporary Italian screen diva: Valeria Bruni Tedeschi

Just give her a meaty role.Hell,even a soggy role - she'll make it pulse with life

April 8,2015 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I would love for a more voluptuous woman to portray Madame X.This is a sensual painting displaying an hourglass figure.Surely Kidman and Knightley are familiar with hourglasses only when they contain sand?

April 9,2015 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

I always thought Madame X had a Streepian profile,so what about one of the Gummer girls?

April 9,2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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