Capturing the Artistic Spirit

What do Richard Armitage, Aidan Turner, Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis have in common, besides all appearing in The Hobbit movies?

Aidan Turner as Rossetti in Desperate Romantics

Aidan Turner as Rossetti in Desperate Romantics

I recently started watching the TV series Desperate Romantics, to see Aidan Turner in period costume- I needed visuals to tide me over until he appears in Poldark next year. For anyone not familiar with the 2009 BBC series, it tells the story of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, with Turner portraying Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It started me thinking about Richard Armitage playing Claude Monet in The Impressionists in 2006, which led me to wondering who else might have something similar on their cv. I had a vague recollection that Benedict Cumberbatch had played an artist, and sure enough, in 2010 he starred as Vincent Van Gogh in Van Gogh: Painted With Words.

Richard Armitage as Claude Monet

Richard Armitage as Monet in The Impressionists

I next went looking on Martin Freeman’s imdb page, to see what he might have hidden away, and couldn’t quite believe that there was another artistic find- in 2007, Freeman starred as Rembrandt van Rijn, in a movie titled, Nightwatching. A quick look at Andy Serkis’ filmography revealed that he too, like Cumberbatch, had portrayed Van Gogh, in this instance in an episode of Simon Schama’s Power Of Art series for the BBC in 2006.

Five projects about very famous artists, starring Hobbit actors, all in a five year period from 2006-2010.

Monet painting Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil

Monet painting Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil

In 2006, Richard Armitage appeared as Claude Monet in the three part BBC series The Impressionists, which used archive letters, records and interviews from the time to reconstruct the origins of the Impressionist art movement. It depicted the friendships of a struggling band of artists committed to pursuing a new type of art, namely Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Bazille and Renoir. The actors were tutored in the authentic painting technique of their character, so Armitage was able to accurately portray Monet racing to capture the light for Impression, Sunrise, and to be shown painting the famous Wild Poppies, Near Argenteuil as it had been in 1873. The series was partly shot in Provence, Normandy, and at Monet’s garden at Giverny, and Armitage made sure to visit Paris, to view Monet’s paintings first hand.

Desperate Romantics, a colourful, somewhat fictionalised retelling of the Pre-Raphaelites, depicted the creation of certain well-known art works, including Aidan Turner’s portrayal of the lesser-talented, but roguishly charming Rossetti, painting Bocca Baciata. The six-part series dealt with the tangled love lives of the Brotherhood as much as their art, also featuring founding artists John Millais and William Hunt.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Van Gogh: Painted With Words

Benedict Cumberbatch in Van Gogh: Painted With Words

Van Gogh: Painted With Words, a BBC drama-documentary, was presented by Alan Yentob. Benedict Cumberbatch, in his portrayal of Van Gogh, voiced the artist’s own words, sourced mostly from the many letters he wrote to his younger brother Theo. Andy Serkis delivered a typically intense performance as the driven Van Gogh, in the documentary series, Power Of Art, presented by the well-known British historian Simon Schama. It too used Van Gogh’s letters to his brother to document the artist’s periods of mental upheaval, and examined in detail his Wheatfield With Crows, painted in 1890.

Andy Serkis as Van Gogh in Simon Schama's Power Of Art

Andy Serkis as Van Gogh in Simon Schama’s Power Of Art

Martin Freeman as Rembrandt in Nightwatching

Martin Freeman as Rembrandt in Nightwatching

Nightwatching, a 2007 film directed by Peter Greenaway, starred Martin Freeman as Rembrandt, and was based around the creation of his most famous work of art, The Night Watch, depicting civilian militiamen who wanted to be celebrated in a group portrait. The film was described as featuring Greenaway’s  trademark neoclassical compositions and graphic nudity, and The Guardian review made mention of the ‘fiercely intelligent performances’ Greenaway elicited from Freeman, and Eva Birthistle as his wife Saskia.

11 thoughts on “Capturing the Artistic Spirit

  1. Having only seen Richard’s wonderful performance as Monet and Andy Serkis in Simon Schama’s Power of Art series, I think I will have to try to search out Desperate Romantics and Nightwatching!

    Sorry this is a little OT here, but last night I watched a spellbinding program on our local Public Broadcaster (The Knowledge Network) about a painting it’s owner believes is a genuine painting by Monet. By the end of the program the painting was shown to be incontrovertibly genuine, yet a very powerful family of billionaire art dealers called the Wildenstein Institute in Paris has refused year after year to acknowledge its authenticity, defying International opinion. The owner has been trying for 18 years to have them change their minds! Because of their refusal to add it to their catalogue of genuine Monet painting, no major auction house will sell it and it must be worth untold millions. As the presenters said, this is the dark side of the art business. I was dumbfounded, more than a little shocked and rather sickened, even when the evidence was shown to be irrefutable, that it was again refused. It is *such* a beautiful painting, called “Bords de la Seine a Argenteuil” and painted in 1875.

    Like

    • Hi Teuchter- I’ve seen that program as well, that you’re talking about here- it’s part of a short British series. The art world can be a cruel place for outsiders it would seem- the gatekeepers are fierce guardians, and don’t play by the normal rules.

      Like

  2. One of my favorite ‘bromances’ is that of Monet, Renoir and Bazille. Having been a Monet admirer long before I even knew RA existed, it was an added bonus to see him in that role.

    I’ve seen Aidan’s portrayal as Rossetti in Desperate Romantics. More than once. (OK, I admit it, I bought the series from Amazon. He’s caught me in his web of cuteness. 😉 )

    At your suggestion, Katharine, I’m going to go on the hunt for the two VanGogh’s and Rembrandt documentaries. Thanks!

    Like

    • I can see I’m preaching to the converted here, Zan! If you click on the link ‘Power Of Art’ in the body of the post, it takes you to the complete doco on YouTube. The Rembrandt film, which I haven’t seen, is apparently partly about a supposed conspiracy theory surrounding The Night Watch.

      Like

  3. I’m so glad you shared this! I wasn’t aware of the other works. I will check them out. I do love the Impressionists series which I came across when I first discovered RA a year ago.

    Like

    • It wasn’t really planned at all, I just sort of got this weird idea, and followed it up. I couldn’t believe that I found as many artist portrayals as I did in such a small sampling as the main Hobbit cast.

      Like

  4. I have seen the film some good months ago on tv.
    Greenaway was a trained artistic painter before being a director and in the Rembrandt film he illustrates his own theory – that the painting by R. van Rijn is a visual riddle, accusing the men depicted — real citizens from Amsterdam (I think), organized as community militia — of banding together to kill one of the members who is shown in the center of the painting. It’s a funny/tragic story about the victim guy going after somebody else’s wife and servants, etc., and thus the oddities in the painting are explained (the little girl with the bird, the dog, the glove, the pot with hot water).
    It’s a historical fact that the crowd who ordered the picture was very hostile to Rembrandt after they received the final painting and bullied him for many years.
    Martin and “Saskia” are very often naked, but in a very artistic way; the cinematography is as beautifully done as in the BBC’s The Impressionists; but the tone of the movie is completely different, it’s a police investigation without the police.

    Like

    • Thanks for the detailed comment about Nightwatching- I read that Greenaway was an artist himself, and I believe he’s done other films in a similar vein.

      Like

  5. Thank you for this interesting post Katharine! I’ve seen Desperate Romantics but didn’t enjoy it as much as The Impressionists – nothing to do with the lack of a certain Mr A., but more so with my liking for the art of the latter artists. I haven’t seen any of the others you mention, but will have to chase them up, particularly the one that Andy Serkis did. I’m interested to see him in a role that isn’t mo-cap.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s