10 Movies About Artists to Add to Your Queue (and 2 You Should Skip)

I’ve handed over a post recently to recommend art documentaries. Now, for a little “lighter” summer fare.

These are dramas I  recommend with artists (who once walked this earth) as main characters – without any judgment regarding historical accuracy.

  • Modigliani (Andy Garcia as the Italian master)
  • The Mill and the Cross – This can be gruesome and a little slow, but it’s Brueghel’s famous painting, The Procession to Calvary, brought to life. No dialogue. I doubt you’ve ever seen another movie like this.
  • The Moderns (with Keith Carradine and a great soundtrack)
Camille Claudel (Isabelle Adjani as Rodin’s lover and protégé)
  • Artemisia (Valentina Cervi as Artemisia Gentileschi)
  • Wolf at the Door (Donald Sutherland as Gauguin)

Three I’m sure you’ve seen:

  • Basquiat

Another one I like a great deal is Impromptu with Judy Davis as the writer Georges Sand and Hugh Grant as Chopin. There is only a token appearance by someone as the painter Eugène Delacroix, but I love the way it depicts the interaction among all of the arts (nice romance, too).
And before you mention it, I can’t recommend Surviving Picasso. Didn’t care for it at all. Nor was I crazy about Girl with a Pearl Earring, although the paint-mixing and conversations with Vermeer about color were interesting.
Most of these drams are more entertaining than educational. That’s an entirely different list!
What am I forgetting?

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46 thoughts on “10 Movies About Artists to Add to Your Queue (and 2 You Should Skip)”

  1. There is a wonderful old movie, Rembrandt, played by Charles Laughton. Worth seeing. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is fun. Lust for Life about Van Gogh, classic.

  2. I absolutely loved the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” so as always it is personal taste. Watching the movie I was really able to place myself in that time of history and I could have watched all day the mixing of paints. With research I did realize what was really being asked of her when Vermeer suggested that she take off her cap. Very moving.

  3. Vincent and Theo — relationship between Vincent Van Gogh and his brother. Saw it several years ago, but it made an impact. Intense.
    The book Girl with a Pearl Earring is better than the movie 🙂

    1. I saw a t-shirt the other day that siad ‘ The Book was Better” – I might have to get it!

  4. I haven’t seen it, but there’s a movie about El Greco, perhaps by that title, I have the sound track — glorious!! — and was playing it yesterday in my studio.

  5. Randine Dodson

    Edvard Munch (1974). Really, a pretty good film – made to feel very biographical – like a documentary.

  6. I enjoyed this list, and i enjoyed the comments – I just put several of these on my instant queue on netflix. I had already decided to reread some classics this summer, I just made the decision to re-watch some of these movies about art.

  7. Wonderful list. Excellent additions. I’ve got 2 to add:
    Fur – a fictional Diane Arbus biography with Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey, Jr
    Everlasting Moments – Brilliantly sensitive, in Swedish with subtitles. Hopefully fiction – there are a number of ‘abusive’ scenes. One of the finest movies I’ve seen.

  8. Julie Kaldenhoven

    Has anyone seen the movie Klimt starring John Malkovich? I can’t seem to locate it, but would love to as Klimt is my favorite artist. I like that Modigliani is at the top of your list because I found Andy Garcia’s sparkling and intense performance extraordinarily moving historically accurate or not). Then again, I feel the best movies leave you feeling something, otherwise they would be documentaries!

  9. Speaking of documentaries, I forgot the awesome “Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies”:, which clearly shows how the artists were directly influenced by the new technology of cinema and the movies themselves. Wonderfully insightful and makes history so relevant.

  10. Hi, just wanted to add an oooold movie, zest for life, about Van Gogh , played by Kirk Douglas. It is an old one but I found it extremely well played and some stunning arts as well.

  11. i just saw this movie, Vincent and Theo: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0100873/ a few months ago on netflix. thought it was good…Theo’s character was very interesting, as i thought Theo owned his own gallery but apparently not…and he was quite the womanizer!!
    i am always drawing when i watch a movie, so i don’t catch every thing but i recommend it!!

  12. Alyson, since you mentioned “Impromptu,” I HAVE to mention “Remembering Frederic: The Genius of Chopin,” which is a one-hour, independent documentary featuring Rosemary Harris (who portrayed Georges Sand in the Masterpiece Theater series “Notorious Woman” in the ’70s) and my wife, Pamela Howland (www.pamelahowland.com). I must say I believe Remembering Frederic is a beautiful, touching piece about the life of Frederic Chopin, and his relationship with Georges Sand. Thanks so much for this wonderful list of films, and to all the commenters for adding even more! I have seen some, but not all of them, and will certainly be adding them to our list for future viewing.

  13. Alyson, I’m a great fan of art in the movies. I’d like to mention a few. There’s “Camille Claudel” (1988) which features French actress Isabelle Adjani in the title role of Auguste Rodin’s lover and sculptor in her own right. Then there’s Kirk Douglas as Van Gogh in “Lust for Life” (1956). I was so fascinated by his tormented performance. There are also movies lovers of art history may really savour. For instance Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992); virtually every scene is concocted from a vast archive of art historical imagery of the time period of the novel — it’s incredible! Also, for those who love a Cinderella story with a gusty herione there’s Drew Barrymore in “Ever After” (1998). In this one Leonardo da Vinci gets to play Cinderella’s fairy god mother — he works his magic with sketches from his journals — amazing! There’s a fabulous website that lists films that references art history in the movies its: http://www2.palomar.edu/users/mhudelson/ArtHistoryMovies.html Happy viewing! Michelle

  14. Ok…These are not films…However…The TV show called Grimm has the most amazing special effects…The people turn into various creatures & it must be artists doing that!
    The other thing is my mum just came back from a trip to the Hermitage in St.Petersburg Russia…Jealous, I went to the Hermitage website, which turns out is huge & has 3d almost video panoramas of the rooms…It might take forever to look at everything on their site…
    Apologies for being slightly out of context…(I’ve run out of films to watch…)

  15. Thank you Alyson for this list and to everyone adding to it. I will definitely be adding many of these to my Netflix queue.
    I just watched ‘Seraphine’ (not sure of spelling here) and ‘The Mill And the Cross’ last night. I enjoyed the first one, but not so much the second one.

  16. My last year of my BFA I took art seminar class. It was taught by a Professor Hermineglide Chaission, flim maker, visual artist, and writer.
    We watched most of the films mentioned in your post and found in the comments left in response. The course focused researching each artist, watching the films and then comparing and contrasting each film with fact vs fiction regarding each artist.
    My favourites ?
    Fur was based on the book by a close friend of Diane Arbus. Though it wasn’t so factually based the essence of Dianne Arbus was captured. It was a beautiful film I thought. Visually sensual and imaginatively stimulating.
    Basquiat was amazing! Acting the script everything was well done. A tragic story but an important one to learn form as artist and human beings that fall prey to the temptations of the world; fame and addiction.
    Theo and Vincent was poorly done and was supposedly about the symbiotic relationship between the Van Gogh brothers. The letters between them is what really defined their relationship, which this movie failed to do.
    Klimt? Awful! Couldn’t figure it out ,what the point was at all but the cinematography was very effective! I love John Malkovitch and he played a great Klimt. Too bad the script was so lacking.
    Both the documentary about Freda and the movie I loved! The way the paintings were super imposed into the events of her life and the authentic portrayal of her life, the person she was, her philosophy came across vividly and brought her character to life in every way. The acting was exceptional.
    We didn’t want to watch the Pollock movie. Most of the students in our class were women and we don’t like him!
    Thanks for your post! I’ll be checking out the few listed I haven’t seen!
    P.S. Artemisia…how could I forget!!! This movie was an abomination to her memory!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Catherine: Yes, someone else mentioned “Fur.” I am going to be adding that to my queue.
      Explain the Artemisia abomination.

  17. Just want to add that because of that movie Camille Claudel, back in like 1993-ish?, I learned how to carve alabaster into sculptures…For anyone who wants to try chipping away at stone, this is a very inspiring movie…

  18. Add to your film list Gerard Richter Painting.
    Watch my exhibition opening youtube video http://youtu.be/MhMwHoU3xDw
    In gratitude this year, fabulous installation & reception. Public Review: Powerfully positive art exhibition. Delightful message. cool film iconography, A painting process that demands the artist respond to the immediacy of color chemistry. Awesome message!
    Merci to All! Kellyann Gilson Lyman kellyannart.com art scene review | First Thursdays Art Walk, 5-9pm A+ Calistoga Art & Business partnering. Soak in Indian Springs pools, savor cuisine & wines+ art in Calistoga public spaces.

  19. Fur is fantastic , and here a few others…
    “waiting for David Hockney”
    very weird and wonderful: “Marwencol”
    “In a dream” about mosaic artist Issaiah Zagar
    “Fold Crumple Crush” about El Anatsui

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Thanks for these, Rebecca. The last two sound like documentaries and I’ll add them to that list. I have seen “In a dream.”
      El Anatsui is speaking in Denver in the fall. Really looking forward to it!

  20. Great list here. I see no mention of Factory Girl, I guess it’s more about a muse. Fur: An imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus is another weird one about becoming an artist and breaking away from the norm.
    An inspirational scene from Surviving Picasso was the opening when Picasso shows a collector a stash of canvases. Many canvases just stuffed in a holding cell. It told me that you should always be making more and more art and building a pile of work. Always be creating.
    Thanks for the list.

    1. Ooo. I definitely want to see Fur.
      And thanks for the mention of the 1 scene from Surviving Picasso. I really disliked that movie when I saw it in the theater but that was so long ago.

    2. I too didn’t fall for Surviving Picasso. It steps into the cliche that artists are misogynistic philanthrop. I think the movie might have taken on too much and ended up confusing as to who/what it was about. In the film Picasso was getting older and clinging to his youth and freedom, that maybe can’t survive in old age? He thought a younger woman would help, but he never wanted to commit, and ended up damaging her. Does this story sound familiar?

  21. Artists that I would like to see films around: [no particular order] Michelangelo Caravaggio (he led a tumultuous life/an exiled murderer of sorts); Carl Andre and Ana Mendieta (Andre was charged with second degree murder when his wife fell from their apartment in New York causing a firestorm of controversy for the iconic Minimalist); Claude Monet (just because he lived through many changes in the art world and remained brilliant each step of the way); and Richard Serra (workers suffered {at least one died} for his art and it didn’t detour him from his vision)

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