Monday, December 10, 2012

The Midnight in Paris Picasso Painting

So, one of my favorite movies to be released recently is Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris which was released in 2011. It took the artsy-film crowd by storm when it was released because of the large number of famous historical figures from the 1920s, which allowed for a large, and consequently famous, supporting/cameo cast. I personally really enjoyed its story which concerns a 21th century American wannabe novelist, played by Owen Wilson, in one of his best movies) who loves Paris (where the story’s set) and the ‘20s, despite the scoffs of his beautiful fiancĂ©e, played by Rachel McAdams. Luckily for him, by some miracle, he is transported there one magical night and experiences all his favorite historical characters and falls in love with a French girl from the 20s, played by the gorgeous Marion Cottilard. It’s an enjoyable little film.

Not to flatter Woody Allen, but the film is a piece of itself. It has one of the best scores I’ve heard in a while, and is beautifully shot and really does a great job capturing the essence (or supposed essence, I guess) of Paris (I’ve never been there). Now, since Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein and Picasso all appear in the film-it is full of art- but I’m going to focus on piece in particular, because it plays a minor role in the plot.

Somewhere in the film, Ernest Hemmingway takes Gil (Wilson) to see Gertrude Stein so she can critique his manuscript. When they arrive at her infamous salon, Stein (played by Kathy Bates) is sitting there (actually in front of a famous portrait of her) debating one of Picasso’s pieces. He’s angrily Spanish, debating right back at her.

This is some of the interchange from the film.

Gertrude Stein: "You can help decide which of us is right and which of us is wrong. I was just telling Pablo this portrait does not capture Adriana. It has universality but no objectivity.
Look how he has done her- Dripping with sexual innuendo, carnal to the point of smoldering.
Yes, she’s beautiful, but- it’s a subtle beauty, an implied sensuality."

Then, of course, the character of Adriana (Cottilard) is introduced and Gil, of course, falls in love with Picasso’s beautiful mistress.

I find the interchange all slightly humorous. I actually like a lot of Picasso’s work, especially his synthetic cubism and his much-earlier Blue Period. I feel this painting conveys nothing emotional whatsoever in it-sensual or otherwise. However, I don’t quite care for this piece at all, but I’ll elaborate later.  

The painting also appears in the film when Gil is in modern-day times. There’s a debate in the museum, where the painting now hangs and Gil shows off his knowledge of the piece to the group, which surprises everyone. He “correctly” identifies it as a rough draft, if you will, of a portrait of one of Picasso’s lesser mistresses. While the character of Adriana continues to appear, the painting disappears from the screen, leaving you with the impression that now you artsy movie watcher know all about some obscure Picasso. Well- you don’t, so calm down.

This painting is actually titled The Bather or La Baigneuse. It is an authentic Picasso, painted in 1928 and currently located at the Musee Picasso, in Paris. At that time, Picasso was returning to his more abstract roots after a more realistic stint known as “classicism” based on Greco-Roman sculpture in the early 20s. In ’27-28, Picasso actually did a few “Bather” paintings, which all show the same basic form of cubism and subject. I’ve included two of this series to show you how non-unique The Bather actually is (enjoy Bathing Women from 1927, and Bathers with a Beach Ball from 1928). 

Midnight in paris

So this painting is a hybrid when it comes to categorizing. For one, it is an actual painting, not an original work created for the film. However, unlike some real paintings that appear in movies, its meaning and subject is modified and actually, quite frankly, false. It does, however, play a part in the film. For one, it adds a rough date to the movie itself (the actual date of the past that Gil travels into is never elaborated on). However, since the painting’s meaning is different, the date of the actual piece means very little. It plays a minor role, in the plot, so it fits in little ways to a couple of categories.

For one, the painting represents love. On the onset, it is Picasso’s expression of love to Adriana and is later a reminder of Gil’s love of her, as well.

In a deeper way, it represents frivolity. A swimming excursion is certainly a frivolous one, and if one emotion is captured in this piece it is the joy and unchecked spirits of a trip to the beach. In a similar way, despite his intentions, Gil’s trips to the past are frivolous excursions that only serve to distract him from the present- a vacation from the present-day, if you will. Such trips don’t last long, for a reason. This piece may, or may not, serve as a piece of foreshadowing in the film, setting the tone of all Gil’s sojourns to the past-ones that will not last long and may prove to be just joyful, but perhaps not fruitful, experiences aside from the everyday.  

It also is a reminder of the past. When Gil views the painting in the museum, he is undoubtedly reminded that his excursions to the twenties occur far in the past. In this same way, it is an indicator of a presence that is no longer there. Adriana is undoubtedly also long dead in the 21st century, yet “her” painting conveys her presence.

And finally, the painting adds authenticity to the setting. Not only does the painting appear to be an actual Picasso work, it actually is. So when you have the characters, the painting, the implied time-voila! You have an authentic setting.


  1. Great piece on a lovely film - thanks for the background on the painting

  2. Can you give a more elaborate background of the painting?


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