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Famous Artworks That Inspired and Featured in Movies



Here at Baldy and The Fidget, we have always been big moviegoers. We love big dramas, action movies and animations (you are never too old for animations and the artworks are amazing!)


Art, however, has always been a powerful source of inspiration for moviemakers. Throughout the history of cinema, famous artworks have played a significant role in shaping the visual language of movies. Directors have often drawn inspiration from renowned paintings to create visually stunning and thematically rich cinematic experiences. In some cases, these artworks even make cameo appearances in films, adding depth and meaning to the storytelling. In this blog, we will explore some of the most famous artworks that have inspired or been featured in movies, highlighting the interplay between the worlds of art and cinema.

 


Let’s start with "Starry Night" by Vincent van Gogh and the movie ‘Loving Vincent' (2017)

Vincent van Gogh's iconic painting "Starry Night" served as both inspiration and a central theme in the animated film "Loving Vincent." This groundbreaking movie was entirely hand-painted in oil paint in the style of van Gogh and revolves around the mysterious circumstances of the artist's death. The film not only pays homage to van Gogh's work but also allows viewers to step inside his paintings and immerse themselves in his world.



Source: https://www.independent.co.uk/ and https://www.vangoghgallery.com



Next, we have "American Gothic" by Grant Wood and the movie 'American Gothic' (1988)

The famous portrait of a farmer and his daughter (often mistaken for his wife) in front of a Gothic-style farmhouse has become an iconic representation of rural America. In the film "American Gothic," this painting takes on a chilling and eerie significance as it becomes the inspiration for a horror story. The juxtaposition of the peaceful and wholesome image with a gruesome plotline adds a layer of irony and tension to the film.



Source: https://en.wikipedia.org


"Christina's World" by Andrew Wyeth features in or inspires many movies such as 'The Others' (2001), the 1978 movie Days of Heaven by Terrence Malick and the 1974 horror ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’.

The painting shows its subject, a young female polio victim, laboriously crawling across a field toward a distant farmhouse.


"Christina's World” is a hauntingly beautiful painting which inspired Alejandro Amenábar's psychological thriller "The Others." The film's protagonist, played by Nicole Kidman, is obsessed with the artwork, which reflects her own isolation and sense of unease in the vast, empty house she shares with her children. The painting's presence serves as a visual metaphor for the film's themes of loneliness and mystery.


Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror fest, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, was inspired by three sources: the notorious serial killer Ed Gein (who also inspired Psycho‘s Norman Bates), Hooper’s visit to a hardware store, and Andrew Wyeth’s painting, Christina’s World. The painting was also used on a poster advertising the movie. 

In the movie poster, however, the Christina figure’s plight is even worse. Between her and the farmhouse, the film’s villain, Leatherface, is interposed, running toward her with his chainsaw raised overhead.


Source: https://bebe-benzenheimer.tumblr.com

In the movie Days of Heaven, Terrence Malick looks to the Texas plains. The wide expanses of open sky and endless fields mirror the stark framing of ‘Christina’s World’ where grasslands are set against a distant horizon line interrupted only by occasional lonesome architecture. And just like the painting, Days of Heaven uses that sense of depth to create feelings of isolation for its characters–as well as its audience.


Source: https://www.platformart.com

A hint of ‘Christina’s World’ can also be seen in the movie Forest Gump. You probably remember the scene in which Jenny angrily throws rocks at her childhood home, lashing out at every terrible thing that house represents to her. The image of Jenny collapsed in the mud, the house in the distance is a striking one and shows that Robert Zemeckis was clearly inspired by Wyeth’s painting.



Source: https://www.reddit.com

How Christina came to be in Wyeth’s field far from the farmhouse is a mystery. But the artist’s painting is disturbing because she’s alone and helpless in the vast expanse of the field, far from assistance. This image clearly strikes a chord with many moviemakers.



Next, we move on to the 1942 painting "Nighthawks" by Edward Hopper and the movie Pennies from Heaven.

The sense of urban isolation in Hopper's 'Nighthawks' infiltrates 'Pennies from Heaven' by Herbert Ross. The film's lonely diner scene directly mirrors Hopper’s painting, creating a cinematic moment where life imitates art in its loneliest form.

“Nighthawks" captures a late-night scene at a diner, bathed in eerie light. The film "Nightcrawler," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, draws inspiration from Hopper's composition to create a suspenseful and atmospheric neo-noir setting. The film uses the diner's aesthetic to emphasize the eerie and voyeuristic aspects of the story. 



Source: https://www.yourcreativeescapes.com


Next, we have the painting "The Scream" by Edvard Munch and the movie 'Scream' (1996)

Norwegian painter Edvard Munch's masterpiece, "The Scream," inspired not one, but a whole horror movie franchise. Wes Craven's "Scream" movies incorporate elements of the iconic painting, especially the distorted and anguished face of the protagonist in a ghostly mask. The film uses the painting's haunting quality to evoke fear and suspense in the audience. One of Scream’s (the movie) greatest successes is how it challenges its audience. A self-aware slasher franchise (not shy of pointing out the genre's clichés), it provokes viewers to ask questions about the impact of horror, giving rise to a new satirical genre of horror.


Edvard Much’s oil painting The Scream (1893) is a globally recognised work of art, not only famous for its impressive expressionism, but also for its universal representation of despair, anguish, and fear. It often appears on our screens in many formats. It even appeared in The Simpsons! Homer dreamt about a museum where he played foosball with The Scream after he won a match against Michelangelo's David (as you do!).



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

The fantasy movie, Pan’s Labyrinth, directed in 2006 by Guillermo del Toro seems to reference to the painting ‘Saturn Devouring His Son’, by Francisco Goya

Pan’s Labyrinth helped catapult Guillermo del Toro to international fame. The dark fantasy film tells the story of Ofelia—a young Spanish girl who moves with her mother into her violent new stepfather’s house in Francoist Spain.


Blending reality and fantasy, the film combines the real world with a magical one centred around an old labyrinth in which Ofelia must face all kinds of trials—one of whom is the Pale Man, whose striking features like his white complexion and eyeballs in the palm of his hands aren't easy to forget.


Many people interpret the character—particularly a scene in which he bites the heads off fairies—as a direct reference to Goya’s painting ‘Saturn Devouring His Son.’


This painting is Goya’s representation of the Greek mythical figure, Cronus. One of the most powerful Titans, fearing he would be deposed by his children went on to eat them from birth.



Source: https://www.platformart.com

Next, we take a look at the movie called ‘Metropolis’ which is directed by Fritz Lang. This movie references the painting ‘The Tower of Babel’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Austrian American director Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is perhaps the greatest work of German expressionist cinema (and cinema in general). Taking place in a dystopian future, Metropolis tells a story of class struggle in which the world is divided into two social classes: the thinkers, who live in the city, and the workers who live and work underground.



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

The movie’s towering cityscapes reflect Bruegel’s depiction of ambition and chaos, offering a futuristic take on this classical theme.


Breugel’s ‘Tower of Babel’ is an oil painting that depicts the creation of languages and explains why people speak different languages. The myth of the Tower of Babel first appears in The Bible and sought to explain why people speak different languages. In the original version, Noah’s descendants attempt to build a flood-proof tower that reaches up to heaven. Seeing it as an act of rebellion, God sends angels to confuse the Babylonians by preventing them from understanding each other and leaving them unable to complete the project.


 

The thought-provoking movie Shutter Island, directed by Martin Scorsese back in 2010 refers to Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘The Kiss’.

Scorsese’s psychological thriller, Shutter Island, tells the story of a US Marshal (Leonardo DiCaprio) with a shady past sent to investigate a psychiatric hospital where patients have gone missing in strange circumstances.



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

As he collaborates with his partner (Mark Ruffalo) on the case, the film builds feelings of paranoia in both DiCaprio’s character and its audience, who are constantly made to question his sanity.


One of its most memorable scenes shows DiCaprio embracing his wife (Michelle Williams) in the family home. His despair and melancholy are reminiscent of one of art history's most memorable couples: the protagonists of The Kiss, by Austrian Symbolist painter Gustav Klimt.


The Kiss is an oil painting created during Klimt’s Golden Phase when his paintings heavily featured gold leaf, inspired by the mosaics of the Italian city of Ravenna. Produced between 1907 and 1908, the couple’s luxurious attire and effusive embrace have made the work an archetypal reference to passion and love.


 

George Miller’s movie Mad Max: Fury Road refers to Salvador Dali’s painting ‘The Elephants.’

Building on the success of his hit 1980s franchise, Mad Max, Australian director George Miller's 2015 movie Mad Max: Fury Road, stands out for its powerful visual language. Based on a precisely curated colour palette and use of lighting, the post-apocalyptic film symbolises the decadence and dystopian state of the world inhabited by its lead character.


Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

The set design and colours bear a strong relationship to the works of Surrealist painter, Salvador Dalí. A scene in which figures with elongated limbs appear against a desolate background strongly echoes the artist's work ‘The Elephants.’

When Dali painted this work in 1948, he found inspiration in Bernini’s sculpture of an elephant carrying an obelisk on its back in Rome. It’s quite unusual for Dalí because it lacks the saturation of elements often present in his work. Two elephants tower over a desolate desert landscape, touching the sky, while two figures stand immobile below them, witnessed by a temple-like building in the distance. Dalí's elephants are said to represent the future and are symbolic of strength.



The cult movie, ‘A Clockwork Orange,’ directed by Stanley Kubrick seems to refer to Vincent Van Gogh’s painting ‘Prisoners Exercising’.

Van Gogh's paintings are popular amongst movie makers. A Clockwork Orange is based on the dystopian novel of the same name by British writer Anthony Burgess. It was brought to the screen by director Stanley Kubrick. The movie deals with the actions of sadistic young criminal Alex DeLarge and his gang of "Droogs".



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

Exploring the origin of evil, violent behaviour, and how science approaches rehabilitation, the controversial movie (at one time banned in many countries!) eventually became a cult classic.


After Alex is sentenced to prison, there's a scene in which the prisoners circle in the middle of a small space as part of the daily routine which seems to be a direct reference to Van Gogh’s painting.


Van Gogh painted Prisoners Exercising during a time at which he had voluntarily admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1890. He created this painting after doctors postponed his discharge, it suggests the artist's feelings of isolation and hopelessness at the time.

 

Many, many, many movies refer to artworks. I have mentioned a few of my favourites but the list of references seems endless. The movie Melancholia directed by Lars Von Trier refers to Ophelia by John Everett Millais, The Exorcist, directed by William Friedkin references The Empire of Lights, by René Magritte, The Shining, by Stanley Kubrick has characters that are remarkably similar to Diane Arbus work Identical Twins, the list goes on.


There are so many scenes that can be found throughout the history of cinema, where great directors have given a nod to world-famous works of art.



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

Kirsten Dunst in Melancholia directed by Lars Von Trier. Ophelia, by John Everett Millais.



Source: https://cdn.domestika.org

This iconic scene from The Exorcist was inspired by Belgian painter René Magritte's painting 'The Empire of Light'.


Art and cinema have always had a symbiotic relationship, with famous artworks providing a rich source of inspiration for moviemakers. Whether serving as thematic touchstones or making direct appearances in films, these artworks add depth, symbolism, and visual flair to the cinematic experience.


How many have you spotted, and which are your favourites?

 

Thanks for reading about my art in movie selections. I could have added many many more. Maybe another blog for another time?

 

Thanks

Baldy and The Fidget

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