Filmmakers have always idolized and r omanticized painters, considered them kindred spirits whose tumultuous lives and bad behavior could be excused for the sake of art.
The new animated wonder “Loving Vincent,” which depicts the last days of Vincent Van Gogh’s life in images modeled after the Dutch painter’s luminous canvases, follows a long line of depictions of Van Gogh by such actors as Kirk Douglas (“Lust For Life,” 1956) and Tim Roth (“Vincent & Theo,” 1990).
But Van Gogh isn’t the only painter to get the Hollywood treatment. Here, in chronological order, are seven passionate portrayals of artists who poured their fascinating lives into their work.
1. The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
Irving Stone’s novel — about the quarrels between the painter Michelangelo and his patron, Pope Julius II, over the creation of the murals on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel — was transformed by director Carol Reed into a scenery-chewing contest between Charlton Heston as the painter and Rex Harrison as the pontiff. “When will you make an end?” the pope repeatedly asks Michelangelo, who constantly responds, “When I’m finished.” Vito Russo, in his landmark book on homosexuality in film “The Celluloid Closet,” cited this movie as an example of Hollywood rewriting gay historical figures as straight — and Heston reportedly refused to let a 1995 documentary of Russo’s book use any clips.
2. La Belle Noiseuse (1991)
Few filmmakers captured the process of painting, the trial-and-error experimentation of applying paint to canvas, better than the French New Wave icon Jacques Rivette did in this riveting drama. It centers on a once-famous artist, Frenhofer (Michel Piccoli), who gets a visit from a young painter, Nicolas (David Burzstein), and the young man’s girlfriend, Marianne (Emmanuelle Beart). Frenhofer takes one look at the radiant Marianne and is inspired to revisit an abandoned project from years ago, but her sittings with the old man turn into a battle of wills between painter and muse. At four hours, one might think it’s as boring as watching paint dry, but it’s a fascinating look at the thought and passion behind every stroke.
3. Basquiat (1996)
The meteoric rise and rapid fall of New York street artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (played by Jeffrey Wright) is captured by someone who was an eyewitness: artist-turned-director Julian Schnabel (who is lightly fictionalized in a character played by Gary Oldman). From Basquiat’s beginnings as a homeless graffiti artist through his being “discovered” by Andy Warhol (David Bowie, in a perfect imitation), Schnabel captures the swirl of the hype-driven art world and how fame, drugs and fair-weather friendships contributed to the young artist’s decline. (The movie was released by Miramax, and recently actress Claire Forlani, who played Basquiat’s girlfriend, said she “escaped five times” from encounters with Miramax head Harvey Weinstein around the time of the movie’s release.)
4. Pollock (2000)
Ed Harris directed and stars in this passion project, a biographical drama about painter Jackson Pollock, known for large abstracts in which he dripped, splattered and flung paint onto the canvas. Harris depicts Pollock as constantly argumentative, whether with critics (“I deny the accident!” he tells one journalist who decries his accidental placement of colors) or his lover and collaborator, the equally temperamental artist Lee Krasner (Marcia Gay Harden, who received an Oscar for the role).
5. Frida (2002)
The larger-than-life story of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo became a fitting canvas for theater director Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”). Salma Hayek leads the cast as Kahlo, backed by Alfred Molina as Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera, and a supporting cast that includes Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas, Diego Luna and Geoffrey Rush (as Leon Trotsky). Taymor’s colorful, evocative images matched Kahlo’s work in dynamic fashion.
6. Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
The British enigma Banksy directs this witty documentary about the modern art scene, which starts as a profile of Banksy and other street artists filmed by a loudmouthed Frenchman, Thierry Guetta. But when Banksy realizes Guetta’s footage is unusable, Banksy takes over the film — and Guetta, in revenge, turns the tables by transforming himself into a street artist, Mr. Brainwash. At any moment, the viewer feels what’s happening is either totally real or a complete con, which is a perfect metaphor for the art world.
7. Mr. Turner (2014)
Less-than-great people often create great art, and the British landscape artist J.M.W. Turner was the embodiment of that. As played by Timothy Spall in director Mike Leigh’s rich biographical drama, Turner is unkind to his maid (Dorothy Atkinson), dismissive of the woman (Ruth Sheen) who bore his illegitimate daughters, and rude to his rival painters. But Turner sees the English country and seascapes in a whole different way than his predecessors, and Leigh applies light and shadow in ways Turner would have appreciated.