Set Pieces: Art & Film

The realms of art and film intertwine more often than you might think. Alfred Hitchcock famously modelled the menacing Bates house after Edward Hopper’s House by the Railroad; Terrence Mallick used Christina’s World, by Andrew Wyeth, as inspiration for his 1978 masterpiece Days of Heaven; and Lars Von Trier’s surreal yet stunning drama, Melancholia, pays homage to Ophelia by John Everett Millais. Many filmmakers, however, go one step further by recreating art in particular scenes (try to spot The Last Supper in Inherent Vice), as well as placing pieces directly in their sets. Those with a sharp eye may have spotted these examples already, but let’s take a look at five of our favourites.


A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by George Seurat – as seen in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off


Painted between 1884 and 1886, this is without doubt the most famous work by George Seurat and an example of Pointillism at its finest. His portrayal of bourgeoisie Parisians lazing in the cool shadows on the banks of the Seine has emerged frequently in popular culture, yet no time has it been more beloved than in the wonderful museum scene from John Hughes’ classic 1986 comedy. The painting that captivates Ferris’ best friend Cameron is actually a mirror impression of Bathers at Asnières, which depicts the working class basking in the heat of the sun on the opposite side of the river. La Grande Jatte was acquired by the Art Institute of Chicago in 1924, where it has remained ever since.


Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi – as seen in The Awakening


Italian painter Artemisia Gentileschi is widely considered among the most accomplished artists of the Baroque era. Much of her work is focused on the portrayal of female characters from allegories, myths and the Bible. This bloody image is drawn from the Book of Judith and depicts the beheading of Assyrian general Holofernes at the hands of the beautiful Isrealite widow (assisted by her maid), before he can destroy her home city of Bethulia. Judith is often seen as a fine example of the Power of Women theme that was prominent throughout this artistic period. Judith is a charming, feminine woman whilst also a vicious heroine – much like the protagonist, Florence, in The Awakening.


Number One (Lavender Mist) by Jackson Pollock – as seen in Mona Lisa Smile


It’s safe to presume that most of us would have a similar reaction to Julia Robert’s Katherine upon seeing this revolutionary Pollock painting. Get up close and you can feel the electricity in the flicks and splashes that guide you across the canvas. Lavender Mist was painted in Pollock’s Long Island studio in 1950. The site backed on to Accabonac Creek which, with its grassy marches and watery light, is said to have been a source of inspiration for this magnificent piece.


The Last Judgement by Hieronymus Bosch – as seen in In Bruges


Typical of the 15th century Dutch painter’s hugely individualistic work, The Last Judgement depicts humanity’s strongest desires and deepest fears in his own macabre and pessimistic way - a perfect representation of Colin Farrell’s tormented character Ray in In Bruges. In the left panel, blessed souls take a boat to the Garden of Eden whilst sinners are tortured by insect-like creatures, presided over by Christ, in the centre. On the right, the infernal city burns under siege by demons in the background. Bosch’s Triptych can be seen at the Groeningemuseum in Bruges, Belgium.


Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir - as seen in Amelie


A French impressionist masterpiece spotted in an equally splendid French film – both of these titles deserve all the admiration and acclaim they consistently receive. This world famous 19th century Renoir piece depicts a group of the artist’s friends at the Maison Fournaise restaurant in Chatou, an affluent suburb of Paris. After a decade long pursuit to acquire the work, American collector Duncan Phillips purchased it for $125,000 in 1923. It remains at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.