Where to find the works of art you’ve seen in famous films

I have a pal who works in publishing. She’s my go-to girl for book suggestions and I remember her raving about The Goldfinch before it was out, so on the day of its release I ordered it online… And it’s still lying on my bedside table, waiting for me to venture past the second page. Shitty effort I know; but I just keep getting distracted (by books like J G Ballard’s Kingdom Come, which I’m currently plodding through).


Like so many stories before it, Donna Tartt’s plot pivots around an existing work of art: Carel Fabritius’ The Goldfinch. It’s a small piece, painted in the Netherlands in 1654, where it has largely remained. But in 2013, presumably in a stunt to promote or capitalise on the promotion of the book of the same name, it made a rare trip to a gallery in New York. On the novel’s shoulders, it attracted record-breaking crowds, lifting the painting from relative (and I mean really relative; it has long been a well-known piece of art) obscurity to an artwork present in mainstream awareness.

It’s back home now, and can be seen at the Mauritshuis at The Hague in the Netherlands. But where else can we find artworks with a similar story; paintings that have been popularised by other artforms?

Girl with a Pearl Earring, Vermeer // Girl with a Pearl Earring


Vermeer’s most recognisable work, the 1665 painting Girl with a Pearl Earring, is the inspiration behind Tracey Chevalier’s book of the same name, written 334 years later (I can see those cogs turning… that’s 1999). The book has sold over two million copies and is published in 36 languages; the painting is The Hague’s second most popular Dutch golden age acquisition (after The Goldfinch).

 Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Pablo Picasso // Titanic


I remember when I was at my interview to study History of Art at Cambridge and I was shown this piece. I had no idea who did it. Maybe not being able to recognise a Picasso is why I didn’t get in…

However, I only realised when hungover-ly watching Titanic in halls in first year that it appears in Titanic!  It’s that scene where Cal starts…

“God, not those finger paintings again. They certainly were a waste of money.” And Rose: “The difference between Cal’s taste in art and mine is that I have some. They’re fascinating. It’s like being inside a dream or something. There’s truth but no logic.”… Cal: “Picasso? He won’t amount to a thing. He won’t, trust me. At least they were cheap.” As it happens, I interviewed that actor, Billy Zane for Artwork Wednesdays about his abstract paintings – he knows a lot more about art than his Titanic character.

Despite what the film suggests, the painting wasn’t lost to the North Atlantic and was never even on the Titanic. It has hung at the Museum of Modern Art for years.


Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 (a.k.a Whistler’s Mother), James McNeil Whistler // Bean


I was seven years old when I saw this film in the cinema. At school and Sunday School (yes! This heathen went to Sunday School as a bab!) I was one of the arty kids. You know, always drawing, crap at sport… To me, art was something fun. A hobby. The idea of attaching monetary value was just… nope.

I’ve recently got into the paintwork of Scottish landscape and interior artist Anna King (below), and am in love with the feeling of solitude you can get from an empty, dilapidated scene. For the last year or so, life has been a bit of a whirlwind and while there will always be a special place in my heart for the kind of big, bold, brash artworks you see at exciting galleries like Scream, I’m finding more solace in still, muted compositions. The lack of activity in Whistler’s Mother gives me a similar feeling.



Anna King, Interior


Anna King, Joiner’s Shed Interior II


Anna King, Greenhouse Interior

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