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History of Art is dotted with a number of famous artists. Some were revered for their inimitable contribution to the world of Art, while others became famous for the tragic lives they had lived. Cinema, therefore, presented itself as an excellent medium to tell people about the lives of great artists; to immortalise those unsung heroes who rose to stardom long after their death, as well as those talented few who gained worldwide recognition during their time.
Artsome selects the best movies made about Artists in the last century.
1. Rembrandt (1936)
A film about one of the greatest painters and printmakers in 17th century European Art, Rembrandt Von Rijn is highly revered in Dutch history. Having achieved success at an early age, Rembrandt was nevertheless a victim of financial hardships. This film brought together the dynamic duo of director Alexander Korda with the famous British actor Charles Laughton, who won Best Actor for The Private Life of Henry VIII, to play the title role.
2. Surviving Picasso (1996)
A film about the wildly eccentric painter, Surviving Picasso shows the artist in his 60’s, indulging in passionate affairs. Played by legendary actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, the film explores Picasso’s deep obsession of his mistresses/muses.
3. Utamaro and his Five Women (1946)
A Japanese film directed by Kenji Mizoguchi which was based on a novel of the same title, written by Kanji Kuneida. It is a fictionalised account of the life of printmaker Kitagawa Utamaro (1756-1806) who was famous for his erotic Ukiyo-e paintings of geishas (japanese courtesans).
4. Lust for Life (1956)
Lust for Life is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, written by Irving Stone. It is a biographical film about the troubled life of world famous Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. Acquiring fame only after his death, Van Gogh spent his days in a state of extreme penury relying on his brother Theo for money and paints. The critically acclaimed film stars Kirk Douglas in the lead role, and Anthony Quinn as Van Gogh’s contemporary Paul Gauguin. Quinn won an Oscar for his portrayal of Gauguin.
5. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Another film which was partially based on Irving Stone’s novel by the same name, The Agony and The Ecstasy explores the life of genius sculptor, painter, architect and poet Michelangelo. Starring Charlton Heston as the dynamic artist and Rex Harrison, as Pope Julius II, the film is set around the time of the painting of Sistine Chapel.
6. Caravaggio (1986)
Caravaggio, the film, was directed by Derek Jackman. It enfolds in a series of flashbacks about the life of the artist. His promiscuity among member of both sexes as well as his impulsive nature as an artist is shown as a backdrop for his intense paintings in the film. He was famous while he lived but was almost immediately forgotten after his death. He was later admired for giving particular attention to physicality of human figures in his works.
7. My Left Foot (1989)
A wonderful film about the life of artist Christy Brown, who became a highly proficient writer and artist despite being born with Cerebral Palsy and full control over nothing but his left foot. Enacted by Daniel Day Lewis in his heyday, the autobiographical story was brought alive by Lewis’ excellent portrayal of the Irishman, for which he also bagged an Oscar.
8. Basquiat (1996)
A film about the post-modern graffitti artist Jean Michel Basquiat which chronicles his short yet impactful life as an artist. Born in Brooklyn, USA, Basquiat drew inspiration from graffiti to create his unique collage-style paintings on canvas. The movie was the directorial debut of former colleague and painter Julian Shnabel’s and explored Basquiat’s political art as well as his relationship with friend and mentor Andy Warhol. Warhol’s role was played by David Bowie in the film.
9. Artemisia (1997)
An Italian film which was caught in the crossfire of criticism due to its historical inaccuracy relating to the romantic portrayal of Italian Baroque Painter Artemisia Gentileschi’s rape by a fellow painter named Agostino Tassi. Apart from that, the film offers a deep foray into the life of one of the few women painters during that period. She was the first woman to become a member of the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence, which was an achievement considering women painters were not accepted easily in that era.
10. Pollock (2000)
Directed and enacted by Ed Harris, Pollock is a film about one of the greatest American artists of all time. His contribution to Modern Art is pathbreaking due to his new and innovative ways of using drip and splatter techniques. A film accredited for showing the truth behind the lives of artists, Ed Harris’ faithful production of Pollock’s life bagged Academy Award Nominations and a win for Marcia Gay Harden for playing Pollock’s wife in the film.
11. Frida (2002)
Salma Hayek plays Mexican Surrealist painter Frida Kahlo in this film. Produced by Hayek herself, the film gained positive reviews from the critics. Frida was the wife of famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and she made most of her paintings in a bed ridden state, due to an accident she incurred in her youth. The film is beautifully made and brings out the pathos of Frida’s difficult life as an artist.
12. Modigliani (2004)
A fictional work about the life of Italian painter Amedeo Modigliani, it was set in post World War I Italy and Paris. The life of the brilliant painter and sculptor is enlivened by the enigmatic actor Andy Garcia. Modigliani was known for his elongated faces and figures and for developing a Modern rendition of nudes and portraits. He died of Meningitis at a young age of 35.
13. Factory Girl (2006)
The film shows Andy Warhol’s muse and model Edie Sedgwick and her brush with the famous Pop Artist. Factory Girl offers a different outlook into Warhol’s life and his famous Factory Collective. In the film, director George Hickenlooper traces Edie’s rise to fame and consequent deterioration due to drug addiction until she eventually ends up destitute on the streets of New York. A must watch for Warhol fans.