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The Best Biopics About Artists, Ranked

From Van Gogh’s famous “Starry Night“to Frida Kahlo’s”The Two Fridas“, more often than not, we find ourselves staring into these artworks while being clueless about their meaning. Every artist has their own reason for their creations, and these reasons stem from their subjective experiences. Thus, learning about the artists’ lives gives more meaning to their pieces. It also gives life to these infamous creations. There are specific films that have captured the essence of certain artists’ lives, in turn, giving the viewer an overview of their experiences. Here are some of the best biopics about artists that portray their journeys in creating some brilliant historical pieces.

8 Camille Claudel (1988)

This French biographical film focuses on 19th Century sculptor Camille Claudel. The significance of this film relies on its portrayal of the sculptor’s experiences and her life, which reflects upon the male-dominated art world of the 19th Century. Bruno Nuytten attempts to “establish Claudel’s own claims to greatness“, as historical data shows that she was more often than not, overshadowed by her lover, Auguste Rodin. Camille Claudel illustrates the trauma that Claudel, played by Isabelle Adjaniwent through, as Rodin, played by GĂ©rard Depardieu, takes everything from her. Adjani captures the intense emotions of Claudel’s character in an outstanding performance, which led her to be nominated for Best Actress at the 1989 Academy Awards. It is also notable that, even after many years, the film is relevant even todaygiven the gender inequalities that are very much still existent.

7 Lust for Life (1956)

Based on Irving Stone’s 1934 novel by the same name, Lust For Life takes the viewer through Vincent van Gogh’s life. Even though van Gogh is a well-known artist now, he was rejected many times throughout his life, and this 1956 film perfectly captures his tumultuous life. With Kirk Douglas taking over van Gogh’s role, the film starts off with van Gogh’s failed attempt at becoming a priest like his father. Following this, we see van Gogh ending up in the realms of art in a very unlikely manner. Unlike most painters, van Gogh never intended to pursue art, nor was he satisfied with his paintings. Lust for Life does not fail to showcase van Gogh’s pain and sorrow, in turn, making this a film that ensures the viewer is left feeling sympathetic to the protagonist.

Based on Christy Brown’s 1954 memoir of the same name, My Left Foot follows Brown’s story as an Irish writer and painter with cerebral palsy. Daniel Day-Lewis takes over the role of the protagonist and delivers an astounding performance of his character. What makes this film as well as Brown’s story unique is that Brown “produced hundreds of paintings in addition to writing over a thousand letters, a classic memoir, four novels and four books of poetry – all with the toes of his left foot, the only limb he had muscular control over. ” Day-Lewis ended up winning many awardsincluding an Academy Award and a BAFTA film award under the Best Actor category.

5 Pollock (2000)

In Pollock, Ed Harris portrays the life of the American painter Jackson Pollock. The film opens with Pollock as a famous abstract expressionist painter, and takes the viewer back to his past using flashbacks. From being forced to move out of his brother’s apartment to being rejected by possible buyers at his first exhibition, the story follows the many failures that Pollock encountered. The film also focuses on Pollock’s own flaws, like his infidelity, and ends on a sad note as Pollock is seen drunk driving, which leads to a tragic accident.

4 Maudie (2016)

Maudie is based on the “Canadian painter whose work was so exuberant, you’d never guess at the difficult life she lived“. Maud Dowley, played by Sally Hawkins, a cheerful character that juxtaposes her challenging experiences, is brought to life in this film. We are shown how Dowley is treated indifferently by her family for her severe arthritis, and how she finds happiness through the world of art. Regarded as one of Sally Hawkins’ best performancesHawkins adds the much-needed light to the film through her brilliant execution of Dowley.

3 The Danish Girl (2015)

The Danish Girl, a film by Tom Hooper, is based on the 2000 novel of the same name by David Ebershoff, and focuses on the Danish painter Lili Elbe, who is also one of the early recipients of sex reassignment surgery. The film focuses on Lili Elbe, initially known as Einar Wegener, and her journey in becoming a transgender woman, that started with her wife asking her to pose as a female figure. With Eddie Redmayne taking over the role of Elbe, we are shown how the character faces much discomfort and pain due to her being forced to present herself as a male until she becomes complete at the end with the reassignment surgery, which also causes her death. It must be noted that even though Redmayne delivered an amazing performancethe actor now regrets taking up the role as “many people do not have a chair at the table” and that the role should’ve gone to a transgender actor.

2 Frida (2002)

Salma Hayek takes the lead role in Frida, a 2002 film that focuses on the life of the well-known Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The movie began with the 1922 accident that 18-year-old Kahlo encounters, which ultimately impacted her whole life. However, this accident encourages her to paint, as we see the artist being brought canvases by her father while on route to recover from the ailments. Rather than focusing only on her artistic side and her fame, Frida brings Kahlo’s personal life onto display, including her complicated relationship with Diego Rivera, played by Alfred Molina. The execution of this particular film, from its cinematography to the outstanding performances by the cast, is so phenomenal that the American Film Institute calls it a “movie about art that is a work of art in itself. “


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1 Loving Vincent (2017)

Yet another film on the infamous Vincent van Gogh, Loving Vincent is unlike any other film the cinema world has encountered. Anna Clark gives a brief overview as to how the film was made by stating; “A team of 125 classically-trained oil painters worked for years on the project, producing around 65,000 hand-painted frames. Their work could not have been more faithful to van Gogh’s artistic style.”

This unique film allowed it to be nominated for many awards, including at the 90th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. What makes the story encapsulated in Loving Vincent interesting is that it focuses on van Gogh’s life after his death. We follow the protagonist, Armand Roulin, played by Douglas Booth, on a journey to deliver van Gogh’s last letter to Theo van Gogh, whose death allows the letter to land in the hands of his widow. Van Gogh is brought to life through his close allies, who reminisce about his character, in turn, allowing him to live through them. This is a brilliantly executed film, and belongs at the top.

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