Paintings starring on screen. Top-5 canvases that played impressive parts in movies
Mr. Bean (1997) – Whistler's MotherPlot: Mr. Bean, the worst security guard at the Royal National Gallery in London, is sent to Los Angeles for two months under the guise of a highbrow scientist. The Grierson Art Gallery of California (fictional) buys Whistler’s famous painting from the Musee d’Orsay for 50 million dollars. The Americans ask the British museum to send a qualified person to chair the official ceremony of returning Whistler’s masterpiece to its homeland and give a two-month course of lectures. Of course, we end up with a disaster movie: Mr. Bean first spoils the painting by applying lacquer thinner on the main character’s face, then replaces the original with a reproduction (painted over with egg-white to give the appearance of brushstrokes in oil paint), and after that — hangs the original canvas in his bedroom, having restored the spoiled fragment himself. Fortunately, the story is fictional — Whistler’s Mother calmly spends its days at the Musee d’Orsay.
By the way: In March 2015, Whistler’s Mother visited the United States: it was displayed at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, California.
The Maiden Heist (2008) – The Lonely MaidenPlot: An elderly security guard at an art museum in America is obsessed with a painting, created in 1875 — The Lonely Maiden. He spends days imagining how he would save the maiden from the thieves. He stares into her sad eyes and thinks about the ways he could help her. He even interrupts the guide to give more details about the role of the painting in the history of "postnaturalism". When it turns out that the Maiden moves to Denmark, and will be replaced by some contemporary art, the man decides to steal the painting. And gets two more middle-age guards as partners in crime. They also have their favourite exhibits, but the girl with sad eyes is the main one here: the comedy film is called The Maiden Heist for a reason.
Nuances: In the film, the painter is believed to be the fictitious French artist Marcel de Robert. In fact, the painting The Lonely Maiden was created from the scratch specifically for the film by contemporary American realist artist Jeremy Lipking (born 1975). He was asked to create something, bearing the spirit of naturalism of the late 19th century. Jules Bastien-Lepage, George Clausen, Émile Friant — these names were mentioned to Lipking as exemplary. However, the artist didn’t really have time for inspiration: he had only one week to create a painting! In this period, he still managed to find a model, some vintage clothes for her, and a way to quickly dry the paint on the canvas. The result, as planned, mesmerized Christopher Walken’s character.
Skyfall (2012) - The Fighting TemerairePlot: The shooting of the 23rd Bond film was entrusted to Sam Mendes, a director who has proven himself to be a real intellectual. He won’t tell the viewers point-blank that his main character is sewn as tightly as the perfect suits he wears on screen, and though he is not accustomed to sentiments and fashionable hipster gadgets, he is not going to retire. Mandes uses Turner’s canvas as an intelligible but bright metaphor and sends Bond to the National Gallery in London — not for an excursion, of course, but for a secret meeting with Q. The characters meet in front of the painting The Fighting Temeraire and exchange a couple of lines:
— It always makes me feel a little melancholy. Grand old war ship, being ignominiously hauled away to scrap… The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see? — asks Q.
— A bloody big ship. Sorry, — retorts Bond.
Turner’s painting plays only a bit part in the film, but it is as important, memorable and irreplaceable as the fleeting appearances of the unequaled M at the meetings or a martini glass in Bond’s hands.
Woman with a Fan hints not only at a fresh and sensational criminal story, but also refers to Dr. No, the first movie of James Bond series, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012, when Skyfall came out. In Dr. No, there appeared Goya’s Portrait of the Duke of Wellington, which was also stolen from the National Gallery in London a year before the movie came out which let the viewers, who had read crime chronicles in the newspapers immediately understand what it was all about. That story has a happy ending: in 1965, the portrait was returned to the gallery.
Notting Hill (1999) – The BridePlot: Famous movie star Anna Scott finds herself first in a bachelor’s apartment, and then in the heart of William — a humble owner of a bookstore. On the wall of the apartment, which falls short of the scale of her popularity, the star sees a calendar with a reproduction of Marc Chagall’s Bride, and in the end, instead of declaring her love, presents the original painting to a random friend who once sheltered her.
By the way: Mr. Bean with its adventures of Whistler’s Mother and Notting Hill were written by the same screenwriter: Richard Curtis. Not only he’s interested in visual arts, but also calls Chagall his favourite artist.
The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Boy with ApplePlot: Having signed an old masterpiece — the painting Boy with Apple — over to a skillful hotel concierge, a wealthy old woman suddenly dies. The number of those, willing to take possession of the canvas is almost equal to those suspected of the murder.
Nuances: In the film, the painting is attributed to an artist named Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger, but in fact it was created in 2013 on the commission of director Wes Anderson, who found modern artist Michael Taylor on the website of The Royal Society of Portrait Painters and requested a portrait. Taylor had a whole year to create his masterpiece. A boy, who posed for him (Ed Munro) was selected after a casting call — just like the actors are chosen for the main roles. The painting had to be made along the lines of works by Holbein and Bronzino — the latter very often portrayed young people in the chosen position.