These are the best art history films ever made, detailing what the film is about, and why we like it! Note this list doesn’t include documentaries, only dramatized films.
- Year: 2017
- Length: 95 minutes
- Country: Poland & the United Kingdom
- Director: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
- Studio: BreakThru Productions & Trademark Films
- Starring: Robert Gulaczyk, Douglas Booth, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O’Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner
Loving Vincent is a 2017 animated film directed by Dorota Kobiela and Hugh Welchman. The film is a biographical drama that explores the life and death of Vincent van Gogh, one of the most famous post-impressionist painters in history.
What sets Loving Vincent apart from other films about Vincent van Gogh is its unique animation style. The entire film is animated using 65,000 frames of oil paintings, each one created by a team of over 100 artists. This creates a mesmerizing and dream-like quality that is both dreamlike and beautiful.
The plot revolves around a young man named Armand, who is tasked with delivering Vincent’s final letter to his brother, Theo. As Armand journeys through Vincent’s hometown and visits people who knew him, we learn about the artist’s life, his struggles with mental illness, and the events leading up to his death. The film explores the mystery surrounding Vincent’s death and raises questions about whether it was a suicide or a murder.
The film is a beautifully crafted film that offers a unique and captivating look at the life of Vincent van Gogh. The animation is stunning, the plot is engaging, and the film’s exploration of the artist’s life and death is both touching and thought-provoking. Whether you’re a fan of Vincent’s work or simply enjoy animation, this is a film worth seeing.
Lust for Life
- Year: 1956
- Length: 122 minutes
- Country: United States
- Director: Vincente Minnelli
- Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
- Starring: Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, James Donald
Lust for Life is a 1956 film directed by Vincente Minnelli that explores the life of post-impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh. The film stars Kirk Douglas as Vincent and Anthony Quinn as Paul Gauguin, Vincent’s friend, and fellow painter. This early work was for a long time one of the best art history films.
One of the strongest aspects of Lust for Life is the outstanding performances of its two lead actors. Kirk Douglas brings energy and passion to the role of Vincent, capturing both the artist’s boundless creativity and his intense emotional struggles. Anthony Quinn is equally impressive as Paul, playing the confident and charismatic painter with ease.
The film covers Vincent’s life from his time as a preacher in the Netherlands to his death in Auvers-sur-Oise, France. Along the way, we see Vincent’s growing obsession with painting, his relationship with his brother Theo, and his friendship with Paul. Lust for Life is a visually stunning film that captures the vivid colors and bold brushstrokes of Vincent’s paintings. The film also does a great job of exploring the artist’s emotional struggles, including his bouts of depression and his eventual descent into madness.
Woman in Gold
- Year: 2015
- Length: 109 minutes
- Country: United Kingdom, United States, Germany & Austria
- Director: Simon Curtis
- Studio: BBC Films & Origin Pictures
- Starring: Helen Mirren, Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Tatiana Maslany, Max Irons, Charles Dance, Elizabeth McGovern & Jonathan Pryce
Woman in Gold is a 2015 film directed by Simon Curtis that stars Helen Mirren as Maria Altmann, an elderly Jewish woman who emigrated from Austria to the United States after World War II. The film is based on the true story of Altmann’s legal battle to reclaim Gustav Klimt’s famous portrait of her aunt, Adele Bloch-Bauer, which was stolen by the Nazis during the war.
One of the strongest aspects of Woman in Gold is the powerful performance by Helen Mirren. Mirren brings depth and nuance to the role of Maria, capturing her determination and resilience in the face of adversity. Ryan Reynolds is also excellent as Randy Schoenberg, the young lawyer who helps Maria reclaim the painting. The chemistry between Mirren and Reynolds is strong, making their scenes together both engaging and entertaining.
The film does a great job of alternating between the present day and flashbacks to Maria’s life in Austria before and during the war. These flashbacks help to provide context and depth to Maria’s story, making her struggle to reclaim the painting all the more poignant.
- Year: 2002
- Length: 123 minutes
- Country: United States
- Director: Julie Taymor
- Studio: Ventanarosa & Lions Gate Films
- Starring: Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Valeria Golino, Mía Maestro, Roger Rees, Antonio Banderas & Edward Norton
Frida is a 2002 film directed by Julie Taymor that explores the life and art of Frida Kahlo, the famous Mexican painter. The film stars Salma Hayek as Frida and Alfred Molina as her husband, Diego Rivera, the renowned Mexican muralist.
One of the strongest aspects of the film is the outstanding performance by Salma Hayek. Hayek brings energy and passion to the role of Frida, capturing both the artist’s boundless creativity and her intense emotional struggles. Alfred Molina is equally impressive as Diego, playing the larger-than-life muralist with ease.
The film covers Frida’s life from her childhood to her death, exploring her relationships, her art, and her political activism. Frida is a visually stunning film that captures the vivid colors and bold brushstrokes of Frida’s paintings. The film also does a great job of exploring the artist’s emotional struggles, including her numerous physical injuries, her affairs, and her political activism.
The Agony and the Ecstasy
- Year: 1965
- Length: 138 minutes
- Country: United States
- Director: Carol Reed
- Studio: International Classics
- Starring: Charlton Heston, Rex Harrison, Diane Cilento, Harry Andrews & Alberto Lupo
The Agony and the Ecstasy is a 1965 film directed by Carol Reed, based on the novel by Irving Stone, that depicts the life of Michelangelo and his work on the Sistine Chapel. The film stars Charlton Heston as Michelangelo and Rex Harrison as Pope Julius II. It has been long regarded as one of he best art history films.
The film showcases the struggles Michelangelo faced in completing the Sistine Chapel, including the opposition from the Pope and the physical toll it took on his body. Despite these difficulties, Michelangelo persisted in his work and ultimately produced one of the most iconic works of art in the world.
The Agony and the Ecstasy does a great job of capturing the essence of Michelangelo’s life and the passion he had for his work. The cinematography is stunning and the sets and costumes are well-designed, immersing the audience in the time period. Heston and Harrison give strong performances, particularly in their scenes together, where their characters’ tension is palpable.
However, the film is not without its flaws. The script can be slow and melodramatic at times, and some of the characters lack depth. Additionally, the film’s depiction of Michelangelo’s personal life is limited, focusing mainly on his work and relationship with the Pope.
- Year: 2000
- Length: 122 minutes
- Country: United States
- Director: Ed Harris
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Starring: Ed Harris, Marcia Gay Harden, Tom Bower, Jennifer Connelly, Bud Cort, John Heard, Val Kilmer, Robert Knott, David Leary, Amy Madigan, Sally Murphy, Molly Regan, Stephanie Seymour, Matthew Sussman, Jeffrey Tambor, Sada Thompson & Norbert Weisser
Pollock is a 2000 film directed by and starring Ed Harris, depicting the life of the famous American painter, Jackson Pollock. The film focuses on the artist’s rise to fame, his personal struggles, and the impact his work had on the art world.
Harris delivers a powerful performance as Pollock, capturing both the intensity and fragility of the artist. The film does an excellent job of portraying the chaos and unpredictability of Pollock’s life and his relationships with those around him, including his wife, artist Lee Krasner (played by Marcia Gay Harden), and his muse, Ruth Kligman (played by Amy Madigan).
The film’s cinematography effectively showcases Pollock’s famous drip paintings and provides a visual representation of the artist’s innovative techniques and bold style. The sets and costumes are also well-researched and accurately depict the time period.
However, the film is not without its flaws. The pace can be slow at times, and the script often struggles to delve into the deeper psychological and emotional aspects of Pollock’s life. Additionally, the film only covers a limited portion of Pollock’s life, leaving out important events and periods.
Girl with a Pearl Earring
- Year: 2003
- Length: 100 minutes
- Country: United Kingdom, United States & Luxembourg
- Director: Peter Webber
- Studio: UK Film Council, Archer Street Productions, DeLux Productions, Inside Track, Film Fund Luxembourg & Wild Bear Films
- Starring: Colin Firth, Scarlett Johansson, Tom Wilkinson, Judy Parfitt, Cillian Murphy, Essie Davis, Joanna Scanlan & Alakina Mann
Girl with a Pearl Earring is a 2003 film directed by Peter Webber, based on the novel by Tracy Chevalier, depicting the life of the Dutch master painter Johannes Vermeer and his most famous work, Girl with a Pearl Earring. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as Griet, a servant in Vermeer’s household, and Colin Firth as Vermeer.
The film is a beautifully shot period piece that transports the audience to 17th-century Delft, Netherlands. The sets and costumes are well-designed and the cinematography is stunning, particularly in the scenes featuring Vermeer’s paintings. The film also features a captivating score that adds to the atmosphere and emotion of the story.
Johansson and Firth deliver strong performances, particularly in their scenes together, where their characters’ relationship is explored through their mutual love of art and creativity. The film effectively captures the tension and intrigue between the characters, as well as the societal and cultural norms of the time period.
However, the film can be slow and a bit melodramatic at times, and some of the characters lack depth. Additionally, the film deviates from historical accuracy in certain aspects, including the nature of Griet and Vermeer’s relationship. While the film is strong on its own, lask true historic depth and isn’t really considered to be one of the best art history films.
- Year: 2014
- Length: 150 minutes
- Country: United Kingdom, France & Germany
- Director: Mike Leigh
- Studio: Film4, Focus Features International, Lipsync Productions, Thin Man Films & Xofa Productions
- Starring: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, Lesley Manville & Martin Savage
Mr. Turner is a 2014 film directed by Mike Leigh, depicting the life of the famous English painter J.M.W. Turner. The film stars Timothy Spall as Turner and features a talented supporting cast including Marion Bailey, Paul Jesson, and Dorothy Atkinson.
The film is a visually stunning and atmospheric portrayal of Turner’s life and work. The cinematography is breathtaking, capturing the beauty and majesty of Turner’s paintings and the landscapes that inspired them. The sets and costumes are also well-researched and accurately depict the time period.
Spall gives a powerful and memorable performance as Turner, capturing the artist’s gruff exterior and his passionate and driven nature. The film effectively explores Turner’s personal life and relationships, including his strained relationship with his father (played by Jesson) and his relationship with his housekeeper, Hannah Danby (played by Atkinson).
The film can be slow and episodic at times, and some of the characters lack depth. Additionally, the film’s portrayal of Turner’s personal life is limited, focusing mainly on his work and relationships with those around him.
- Year: 2014
- Length: 118 minutes
- Country: Germany & United States
- Director: George Clooney
- Studio: Columbia Pictures, Fox 2000 Pictures, Smokehouse Pictures & Studio Babelsberg
- Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville & Cate Blanchett
Monuments Men is a 2014 film directed by George Clooney and based on the true story of a team of art historians and museum curators who worked to rescue valuable works of art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The film stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Jean Dujardin among others.
The film is an entertaining and well-intentioned attempt to bring this little-known aspect of the war to a wider audience. The cast is talented and delivers solid performances, particularly Clooney, Damon, and Murray, who bring humor and charm to their characters. The film’s sets and costumes are well-designed and accurately depict the time period.
The film covers a number of important artworks which were stolen during the Nazi Plunder of Europe, such as the Ghent Altarpiece, Lady with an Ermine, The Astronomer, The Night Watch, and In the Conservatory, among many others.
However, the film falls short in several areas. The script is shallow and lacks depth, simplifying complex historical events and characters. The pacing is uneven and the film struggles to maintain a consistent tone, shifting from action-adventure to comedic moments.
Monuments Men is a well-intentioned but somewhat flawed film that offers a glimpse into a fascinating chapter of World War II history. While it may not be a cinematic masterpiece, it remains an entertaining and educational film that celebrates the importance of art and the human spirit and should be considered one of the best art history films, given the importance of its subject matter.
- Year: 2003
- Length: 93 minutes
- Country: France & Germany
- Director: Mario Andreacchio
- Studio: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
- Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Nastassja Kinski & Alun Armstrong
Paradise Found is a 2003 biographical film directed by Alain Cavalier and tells the story of the French artist Paul Gauguin and his travels to Tahiti. The film stars Kiefer Sutherland as Gauguin and features Dutch actress Katja Riemann as his wife, Mette.
The film is a visually stunning and atmospheric depiction of Gauguin’s life, capturing the beauty and exoticism of Tahiti. The sets and costumes are well-researched and accurately depict the time period. Sutherland delivers a solid performance as Gauguin, capturing the artist’s passion and determination in his quest for artistic freedom and personal fulfillment.
What do you are the best art history films? Comment below if one is missing!