SNARK WEEK: Shitty Historical Movie Portraits

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I’m no art expert, but you don’t need to be to join me in today’s WTF-ery. WHY, I ask you, WHY do filmmakers feel the need to recreate — BADLY — historical portraits??!! There you are, trucking along through a perfectly decent historical movie or TV show, and they decide to show a painting. Generally, it’s a portrait depicting the main character. And unfortunately for the filmmakers, it’s usually an INCREDIBLY FAMOUS PAINTING THAT WE ALL HAVE VISUALLY MEMORIZED. And instead of just using an image of THAT ACTUAL PAINTING, they decide to hire someone to recreate the portrait, generally to look like the actor playing the role instead of the actual historical person.

And I get it. For those who DON’T know the painting (read: most non-history/non-art geeks), it might be a little weird to see a painting that is supposedly of a person whose face you’ve just spent an hour+ memorizing and to not have it match. And, of course, there are times when it’s a fictionalized story and no such painting exists. But the problem is that the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to hire an artist with a totally modern sensibility who can’t paint in the correct style of the period… or who just can’t paint for shit. Because instead of going “hey, that’s Marie Antoinette except it’s Kirsten Dunst!” I’m thinking “DID MY 7-YEAR-OLD NEPHEW PAINT THAT WTF??!!”

Okay, so I admit to feeling a little bit bad about writing this post, because I’m not trying to say that the artist who created it isn’t talented. It’s not THEIR fault that they paint in a totally different, modern style versus a painter from the 16th or 18th or whatever century. And, I’m sure they were told “Make it look sexier!” repeatedly and ended up sobbing into their beret and smock.

But listen, people. Portraits (pre-20th century) were generally incredibly detailed and attempted to be as lifelike as possible. There was no cubist/post-modern attempt to stylize things (okay, unless you’re talking flat medieval art). Nor was there any attempt to show the reality of the person. If your sitter had an unfortunate Hapsburg chin, you minimized it/painted them from the best angle so as to flatter your subject. (Side note, just how scary must those Hapsburg chins actually have been, given that we can assume that the portraits we have must make them look 100x better than they did in real life??!!).

With all that ranting in mind, I’ve selected some stellar examples of “why the hell did they decide to fuck this up” portraits from historical movies and TV shows. I’ve sorted them into categories, just to help you wrap your brain around the What the Frock-ery:

 

Just Plain Ugly

Our first category could include all the portraits in this post, but I’m putting a few choice items here showing fictionalized characters where I feel like the painter went out of their way to make the subject just look UGLY. I mean, yes for verisimilitude and all, but who the fuck makes Colin Firth look that shitty??!!

 

War and Peace (2016)

I called this one out in my recap — no, Pierre isn’t particularly a hottie:

War and Peace (2016)

Pierre, kind of nerdy.

But he’s also rich as fuck, so how he would let an artist make him look like his face was riddled with acne scars, I have no idea:

War and Peace (2016)

LOOK AT HIS CHEEKS. Can paintings catch smallpox?

 

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

I don’t think we need to debate whether or not Colin Firth is the hottest hottie to ever heat up our screens as that paragon of Regency male perfection, Mr. Darcy, in the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice:

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

ALL the yums.

But every time they flash on his portrait (which Elizabeth Bennet contemplates while touring Pemberley), I find myself wondering why they made Mr. Darcy: 1. look like a werewolf (okay, so he has sideburns, but he doesn’t have SIDEBURNS); 2. look like he has a ponch; and 3. have the ultimate diaper crotch:

Pride and Prejudice (1995)

I think the fact that it’s so shadowed is why he always looks like a werewolf to me. Clearly they weren’t excited about shining a bright light on this sucker.

 

SO Not Period Appropriate

Our next group of portraits all share a common theme: they were painted in a style that SO doesn’t look like that of the era. I get it, you’re a modern artist and you have your own style. But there HAVE to be a few artists out there who studied “old master” art and can do a detailed, representational portrait… right?

 

Poldark (2015- )

Okay, so Uncle Charles Poldark isn’t much of an inspiration:

Poldark (2015- )

Chuck. Yep.

But in what world does this possibly-done-with-pastels-in-a-proto-Gaugin-way, or maybe-just-run-through-a-Photoshop-filter painting work from a late 18th-century perspective?

Poldark (2015- )

Okay so this is shown from an angle, but please to be noting the treatment of poor Chuck’s skin…

Compare it to this very-fine-brushwork painting of three British gents from the 1780s:

Sir William Chambers; Joseph Wilton; Sir Joshua Reynolds by John Francis Rigaud, 1782, National Portrait Gallery.

But you might want to argue that the Poldarks are just gentry living in the out-of-the-way Cornwall. Okay, then let’s look at some more “primitive” art like that done in the American colonies, where you usually get this very flat style of painting that still doesn’t have pastel-y brush strokes:

Portrait of Adam Stephen Dandridge, Sr. (1782-1821), Attributed to: Charles Peale Polk (1767-1822), 1779-1800, Colonial Williamsburg.

Instead the painting is just missing some more yellow paint and a creepy sexual relationship with a “native” woman:

Portrait de l’artiste au chapeau by Paul Gaugin, 1893, Musée d’Orsay.

 

Frenchman’s Creek (1944)

Obviously, this story about a fashionable London lady who heads off to Cornwall to get slutty with pirates in 1688 wasn’t trying very hard for historical accuracy:

Lead character Dona, played by Joan Fontaine.

But here’s a quick shot of a portrait of our leading lady:

Frenchman's Creek (1944)

Is this a Disney princess?

Which just looks nothing like portraiture from the late 17th century:

Aphra Behn by Peter Lely, 1670

Like this image of Aphra Behn by Peter Lely, 1670.

Or this Portrait of Nell Gwyn (1650-1687) by Peter Lely, c. 1675,
National Portrait Gallery.

 

The Lady and the Duke (2001)

Okay, so this one is sort of a nitpick. Because their portrait of Grace Elliott, late 18th-century mistress to the duc d’Orléans:

The Lady and the Duke (2001)

The portrait of Grace.

… is clearly referencing the famous portrait of Marie-Antoinette by Elisabeth Vigée-Le Brun (it looks like they took the dress straight out of this painting and just turned it green):

Marie-Antoinette with the Rose by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1783, Palace of Versailles.

And the artist did a good job of making the painting look like lead actress Lucy Russell:

Quite a likeness!

But why the fuck did the artist emphasize Russell’s eye bags??!!

I’m not saying Marie-Antoinette doesn’t have ANY eyebags, but Russell looks like she hasn’t slept in days! Quick, get her a teabag, stat!

 

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Sarah here! Kendra couldn’t get worked up about this portrait, so she’s having me write this for her. Like I told her when she proposed this idea for a post, the Scarlett O’Hara portrait was the first thing that came to my mind.

Gone With the Wind (1939)

Now, I’m not saying it’s shitty in the sense that it’s badly painted or doesn’t look like Vivien Leigh. On those two accounts, it’s actually a damn good portrait, especially compared to all the crap Kendra’s already listed. What I am saying is it’s shitty because it’s not even trying to look like a portrait from the 1860s. It’s got more in common with the portrait of Hélène Charlotte de Berquely-Richards by László, painted in 1935.

Compare it with the style of Ernst Moser’s portrait of Philippine von Edelsberg, who is sporting the much more subdued 1860s bustline.

The “Portrait of Scarlett” was painted by Helen Carlton and given to the Margaret Mitchell Elementary School where it hung in the cafeteria. Imagine trying to eat with Scarlett O’Hara judging your food choices the whole time! It’s now on loan to the Atlanta History Center where it’s on display at the Margaret Mitchell House and hopefully not causing any lasting eating disorders.

The Queen of Resting Bitchy Face.

Alright, now back to your regularly scheduled Kendra rant!

 

Did a 7-Year-Old Paint This?

Versailles (2015- )

Oh, Versailles. Versailles, Versailles, Versailles. You’re trying so hard to be both so true to the real people and history, and yet to modernize and sex things up. No, it’s not the travesty that The Tudors was. But once you’ve tweaked the costumes and the hair, well you can’t just use the actual portraits of Louis XIV, because then the audience would see that you’ve changed things!

Now, I am (mildly) impressed that they’re going for actual surviving portraits of Louis, like this equestrian one where he’s in armor:

Versailles (2015- )

Keep it in the shadows, y’all.

And they couldn’t use the real deal, even from faraway/in a quick shot, because if nothing else, it’s super obvious how different the hair is:

Portrait of King Louis XIV during the War of Devolution by Charles Le Brun, 1668, Charterhouse Museum in Douai.

But CHRIST ON A CROUTON I am very unclear in what world this beginner-art-student likeness of George Blagden as Louis is supposed to be 17th-century-esque:

Versailles (2015- )

I’m NOT saying the artist doesn’t have skill, I’m just saying this isn’t what 17th-century portraiture looks like.

Then they double down with yet another copy of a surviving portrait:

Versailles (2015- )

Louis looking all official and like he does stuff!

Which is clearly referencing this follower-of-Le Brun portrait, which again has very different hair from that shown on the show:

Louis XIV, King of France, in Front of the Tuilerie Castle by a Follower of Charles Le Brun, 1662, Palace of Versailles.

BUT I FEEL LIKE I’M LOOKING AT A PORTRAIT OF A TWILIGHT ACTOR POSTED ON DEVIANTART.

Versailles (2015- )

DEAR GOD.

 

The Borgias (2011-13)

Okay, so this show had gorgeous costumes and amazing hair. And clearly, the paintings shown weren’t really focal items — they flash by super quickly. I mean, it is nice that (again) they reference an actual historical painting:

Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn by Raphael, via Wikimedia Commons.

…when they show Giulia sitting for her portrait while holding a goat:

It’s cool that Giulia (left) has a baby goat on her lap (look at the very bottom center, you can see its little ears)!

And these paintings flash by on screen — they’re clearly not meant to be seen for very long. But WHAT… THE… HELL…. are these some kind of paint-by-numbers deals? Did they only have access to the 15-color box of Crayons? WHY DID THEY EVEN BOTHER THEY DIDN’T HAVE TO SHOW THESE AT ALL THEY WERE NOT INTEGRAL TO ANYTHING

bor103_1203

Yeesh.

 

Unnecessary Face Lift

Okay, so you’re going to repaint the portrait to make it look more like your lead actress. I can deal (with some deep breathing). But why do you then give said portrait-of-the-actress an unnecessary face lift, so that the resulting painting no longer even resembles the actress??

 

Victoria (2016)

Alright, so the real Queen Victoria was very round of face in what was considered soft and pleasing in her era, as you can see in her coronation portrait:

Queen Victoria coronation robes

Portrait of Queen Victoria in her coronation robes by George Hayter, 1838, Royal Collection

And no, Jenna Coleman in Victoria does not have that same soft, round face — instead she has pretty sharp features:

Jenna Coleman, Victoria (2016)

Jenna Coleman as Queen Victoria. I do question this casting based on Coleman’s gamine features, but whatever.

But is the miniseries’ version of the portrait on screen enough (no), or shown in enough of a close-up (no), to warrant a repainting? ESPECIALLY one that gives Coleman-as-Queen-Vickie even less eyes, more cheekbones, and more chin point than she has in real life?

'Victoria' TV show - 2016

Really, this sucker isn’t on screen long enough to BOTHER doing their own version!

 

Marie Antoinette (2006)

This one LITERALLY kills me. Partially because as many of you know, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette is one of my favorite movies of all time — if not the favorite! While by and large the visuals are amazing, sure, there are some wobbles. But then we come to their version of the “Marie Antoinette with a Rose” portrait by Vigée-Le Brun.

Marie-Antoinette with the Rose by Louise Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun, 1783, Palace of Versailles

And as seems to be par for the course, someone said, “Oh no, we can’t show the ACTUAL painting, because then she wouldn’t look like Kirsten Dunst and the audience would have an aneurysm!”

Marie-Antoinette (2006)

Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette

So instead, they inserted this Shitty Ass Version which has higher cheekbones than Dunst has ever dreamed of having. I don’t even care about the “Beware of Deficit” graffiti stuck on it, I’m still reeling from just how scary-plastic-surgery her face looks.

Marie Antoinette (2006)

IN WHAT WORLD DOES KIRSTEN DUNST HAVE CHEEKBONES LIKE THIS OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO HAVE TO HAVE A LIE DOWN.

The sad thing is that I think part of the problem is how the painting was filmed, because here is a clearer image provided by the actual artist — Jenna Gribbon — and actually, it’s not half bad here:

Alright, with some deep breathing I’m way less offended.

The major problem seems to be the rouge and the cheekbone highlight — look at the real Marie-Antoinette’s cheek color, which goes down to her jawline, then look at Dunst-as-MA’s more on-the-cheekbone rouge PLUS the highlight/glare on her cheekbones which make them look like she had horns implanted:

But then we come to the next gem, based on another portrait by Vigée-Le Brun:

Marie Antoinette and her Children by Louise Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun, 1787, Palace of Versailles

…in which Dunst’s eyes seem to have completely disappeared in favor of her apparently GINORMOUS cheekbones:

Marie Antoinette by Jenna Gribbon

I can handle the fact that they felt the need to put Dunst-as-MA into black to over-emphasize that she’s in mourning, but WHERE ARE HER EYES??!!

 

Why?

In this group, we have Repaintings That Just Have No Reason to Exist. Other than to annoy me.

 

Belle (2013)

Another one that just really chaps my hide: Belle. The whole movie was based on a nonfiction biography, which was inspired by the fact that there is this totally rare thing: a portrait showing two upper-class, late 18th-century women, one of whom is a woman of color:

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay (1761-1804) and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray (1760-1825), attributed to Johann Zoffany, c. 1778.

There’s a ton to unpack in this portrait, including the fact that 1. Belle isn’t depicted as a servant but is wearing fancy clothes and clearly has a high station, 2. Belle is the more dynamic and interesting figure in the painting, and yet that 3. Belle is still exoticized, particularly through her turban.

The movie itself is largely successful, particularly in their casting of Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Belle:

Belle (2013)

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Belle (left) and Sarah Gadon as her cousin Elizabeth.

And once again, I get that they wanted to make the painting look like the actresses — and kudos to them for showing the real painting at the very end of the film. But WHY did they have to de-exoticize Belle by removing her turban, when that’s a really important element (the fact that she was totally English and yet totally considered exotic) that’s directly addressed in the movie — AND why did they remove the impish pose and saucy facial expression from the original painting, which is a huge part of what makes her image so intriguing?

Belle (2013)

Okay, so yes, Belle is an upper-class English woman. But here she looks as conventional as her cousin, just with darker skin tone.

It just REALLY seems unnecessary to me to remove these two elements, when again, they are directly addressed in the film itself.

 

Desperate Romantics (2009)

Yet another “why did they bother??!!” Desperate Romantics is all about the 19th-century Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of artists, so it makes perfect sense that the show depicts them in the act of painting as well as the result.

But given that the model for Bocca Baciata (Fanny Cornforth) is on screen for a hot minute…

Aidan Turner (Rosetti) and Rebecca Davies (Fanny Cornforth) mid-Bocca sitting.

And given how non-representational the real painting is:

dante_gabriel_rossetti_bocca_baciata_1859

Bocca Baciata by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1859, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

And given how little the show’s redo of the painting resembles the actress they cast to PLAY Cornforth:

bocca-awful

I like that Sarah, who screencapped this for me, titled the image “Bocca awful.”

WHY, I ASK YOU? WHY?

 

Why I Can’t Even

I can’t even introduce this category, because my ass has gotten so chapped it has literally Fallen. Off. and is now rolling around somewhere in my house screaming “WHYYYYYYYYYY?????!!!!!!”

 

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

PEOPLE. IF YOU’RE GOING TO INCLUDE YOUR OWN VERSION OF A PORTRAIT OF MARIE-ANTOINETTE, WHY THE FUCK DO YOU 1. GIVE HER AN OUTFIT THAT SHE WAS NEVER PAINTED IN (okay, yes, they’re referencing the outfit that the prostitute who posed as Marie-Antoinette wears in the scene where she meets Cardinal Rohan in the garden and mashing that up with the Vigée-Le Brun “Marie Antoinette with a Rose” that we’ve looked at twice above)

Affair of the Necklace

Nicole d’Olivia dressed as Marie Antoinette, meeting Cardinal Rohan in The Affair of the Necklace. Shitty screencap is shitty.

AND 2. MAKE IT LOOK LIKE A PAINT-BY-NUMBERS SPECIAL:

The Affair of the Necklace (2001)

IN WHAT WORLD DOES THIS HAVE ANY RELEVANCE TO ANYTHING

 

North & South (1985? 1986?)

There have been multiple series based on the North and South books. I’m not sure which one this gem is from:

North & South

But here is the literal behind-the-scenes conversation we had at Frock Flicks HQ about this image:

Trystan: Kendra – a shitty portrait from 1985’s equally shitty North & South! I stumbled across a TON of North & South pix just now. omg, the poly baroque satin. the mullets. the jugs.

Kendra: GAH

Kendra: One of us needs to snark week this one of these years

Kendra: OH now I see the painting! Yes! Will include!

Trystan: what, couldn’t see it past the perm?

Kendra: I was distracted by poly baroque satin!

Kendra: OMG THAT LACE

Trystan: there is so much wrong. and yes, there are more.

Trystan: also, notice how slutty the portrait is!

Kendra: And the person in the portrait looks like Debbie Reynolds!

Sarah: WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON WITH THOSE SLEEVES????

 

 

If you can explain the relevance and/or quality of any of these portraits, please do. My chapped ass awaits you.

 

 

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About the author

Kendra

Website

Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

43 Responses

    • Susan Pola

      With the lotion, here’s a brandy and when do these atrocious pics of dog poo get burned. Let’s have a bonfire and toast marshmallows over it while we contemplate P&P with Colin.

      Reply
  1. andrebd

    “Oh no, we can’t show the ACTUAL painting, because then she wouldn’t look like Kirsten Dunst and the audience would have an aneurysm!”
    I am an artist and I had the aneurysm of laughter reading this post.
    I just started watching “Desperate Romantics” and I was very happy they were using the ACTUAL THINGS but something in me just died a little with Bocca Baciata.
    Bravo, girls.
    BRAVO.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      As an art historian, “Desperate Romantics” drives me batty with the art. Some of them are basically the glazed canvas prints that look real from a polite distance, like “The Scape Goat”, the beginnings of “Dante & Beatrice”, and “Christ in His Parents’ House”, but then there’s “Bocca Bacciata” and the portrait of Jane Burden that are awful hack jobs.

      I had a theory that it could be that some of those pairings, mainly Rossetti’s, were somehow tied up in copyright and they were forced on a limited budget to crank out repros. It’s the only thing I can think of that would explain the unneveness between Rossetti’s paintings vs. Hunt’s or Milais’.

      Reply
  2. BMT

    The terrible repaint of the Rosetti painting just reminds me of the Monkey Christ fresco “restoration” that has become a meme.

    Reply
  3. Kelly

    I found the Belle movie portrait to be highly disappointing because the original shows so much liveliness and love between the two women. It’s absolutely splendid, a dynamic and elegant portrait, whereas the movie version looks like a photograph.

    I have been a portrait painter and artist for many years, and I have specialized in colonial style paintings. I can tell you the one of the reasons this might happen is because there are VERY FEW artists out there who know how to paint a great portrait, let alone paint like the Old Masters. It takes years of apprenticeship and study to learn. I know, firsthand, and I couldn’t even come close. It takes months to produce such a painting, with layers of fine glazing, color blending and special oils and mixtures to produce the depth of shadows and fineness of skin tones. The modern paints and mediums most artists use today cannot thoroughly replicate the formulas of centuries past. Even the painting supports cannot be truly replicated – fine linens and special rabbit skin glue preparations.

    I feel that the modern artist has been jaded by photography, and the average viewer expects the portrait to look exactly like the person, and this has been the case in your examples. But as you so clearly pointed out, a sitter’s features were often slightly altered and idealized according to the standards of beauty at the time. Someone’s not learning their art history! That’s why we see such blatant photorealism as in the Marie Antoinette movie portraits. The Girl with the Pearl Earring movie makes a good attempt, and at least the movie is respectful of Vermeer’s artistic genius, but it’s a movie about the relationship, and less so the art. I think the real blame lies with the “creatives, et al.” who have to source the paintings and find an artist to paint the movie portraits. Obviously, historical accuracy and respect for fine art is not their main concern.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I could understand that reproducing actual art is hard, in the more recent films, we have the technology to fake it. PhotoShop, ppl! Canvas print paper! Creative lighting & quick pans! I think of the cottage industry on Etsy & elsewhere inserting cats & dogs into famous paintings — they look pretty good. Esp. compared to the shitty quality of these paintings in often big-budget films.

      Reply
    • themodernmantuamaker

      I was thinking a lot of this as well. And not only does it require a very particular and intensive kind of art education to be able to do this kind of work, I think there’s barely anywhere that you can learn it! My undergrad degree is a BFA in Visual art, including paining, at a quite reputable university for it and there was actually little to no proper technical training. By far the primary emphasis was on self-expression and abstract concepts. It’s not that I have any problem with those, it’s just there was no balance, almost like the belief that natural-born talent was sufficient and it was a waste of time to attempt to hone it into real skill. Ok, rant over.

      It also seems to me that with a lot of these “portraits” there’s some kind of mash-up of photography and painting going on. Some of them (such as the Dido & cuz portrait) look like photographs of the actresses faces were pasted to the canvas and then brushed over to make them look like they were painted. So weird and awkward-looking.

      Reply
      • themodernmantuamaker

        Oh wait, I have one more little rant-y bit. Again, in terms of training, there’s also the issue that representational art is now considered basically inferior to highly conceptual-only art within the contemporary art scene (disclosure: yes, I have a pretty big issue with the contemporary art “scene” for multiple reasons). Hence why there is so little emphasis on building skill and teaching techniques to help you make art look like actual things and people. I’m pretty sure I received more of this kind of training in my highschool art classes (I had a particularly extraordinary highschool art teacher) than my university ones.

        Reply
  4. Katy Werlin

    YESSSSSS this always drives me absolutely CRAZY!! The paintings always look so fake and awful and totally throw me out of the story! The paint filter in photoshop does not equal Gainsborough people.

    Reply
    • themodernmantuamaker

      Heehee, I like that – photoshop paint filter does not a Gainsborough make!

      Reply
    • Susan Pola

      Gainsborough, Reynolds, Titian, Ramsay, Winterhalter, Landseer and Sargent were masters of portraiture. The copyists are merely meh and don’t even try to copy the style of the original work of art. Girl withal Pearl Earring’s portrait at least could be considered a striking copy. But they used the original at the end, I believe.

      Charles V with his yucky chin was flattered by Titian. Wished these modern works didn’t look like they were painted by a demented two year old on acid or crack.

      Reply
  5. Janice Gutshall

    The only thing I can think of is that they perhaps couldn’t get permissions to use some of them?

    The one from bell looks like an over-paint, why would the director ask them to remove the arm???

    Did the directors/set designers not have google? most of these do not have the quality of light the originals have. Why?!?! That alone would have fixed half of the non-period-ness of it all.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      For things the age of the Marie-Antoinette paintings, they’re out of copyright. And many countries have shorter / less asinine copyright laws than the U.S. (yes, that’s my professional opinion as a writer & editor).

      And yeah, why don’t more directors google this shit!

      Reply
      • Kendra

        Well the UK is hardcore and basically asserts the copyright of art belongs to the museum that holds it, but I know at least one (period) copy of the MA en chemise portrait is at the US National Gallery…

        Reply
        • Sarah Lorraine

          That’s what I suspect is at play with the Rossetti portraits in “Desperate Romantics.” I wonder if the Rossetti family holds the copyright for “Bocca Bacciata”, Jade Burden’s portrait, etc. and that’s why a direct digital print wasn’t available and they had to reproduce it.

          Whereas Hunt’s and Millais’ paintings were available for direct-digital. It’s just SUPER obvious when you see them all on screen and Rossetti’s paintings, who was way ahead of his time with composition and technique, looks like a high school student’s final art project.

          Reply
  6. Lindsey McGuire

    the Darcy portrait weirds me out everytime I watch P&P but the Wickham miniature is the worst imo

    also i’m a long-time lurker! hi!

    Reply
  7. Gwyn Carnegie

    North& South really is the gift that keeps on giving. Hugh Grant pronouncing Downey’s painting as “excrement” in Restoration needs to be a gif. Just sayin’

    Reply
  8. Melponeme_k

    Yes, the changing of famous portraits is awful in film. What is more I think they paste photos of the actors onto the canvas then paint over them.

    I think the reason of not using the original is just a matter of image rights. As in film companies don’t want to pay royalties on the image use.

    In regards to Marie Antoinette, she had very, very, VERY agreeable painters in her employ. They definitely minimized the pronounced underbite that she despaired over.

    This young portrait of her is probably as close to life as we’ll ever see.

    http://historyandotherthoughts.blogspot.com/2013/08/portraits-of-marie-antoinettes-sisters.html

    I’m thinking the natural beauty people admired in her was more her flighty, breezy personality than her physical features.

    Weirdly enough, I attended grammar school with a girl who looked almost exactly that portrait. She had skin so white, you could see blue veins on her temple, platinum blond hair, huge eyes, high forehead and an Hapsburg lip. She wasn’t so much beautiful as arresting. Nature really does recycle faces.

    Reply
  9. Kristina

    Weirdly, the miniature of Colin Firth as Darcy looks so much better than the full-lenth portrait.

    Reply
  10. Daniel C

    Hello, as an art historian and photographer this is a subject that has always interested and peeved me, so thanks for the article !

    If I remember well in “Farinelli” (seen a long time ago), there is a male portrait that is discussed rapidly, of a deceased person. It’s an actual 18th century italian painting, but as there is no actor no need for ressemblance. Later in the film another portrait of the same gentleman is shown and they seem to have taken the head from the first painting, inverted it digitally and pasted it onto another portrait. I remember this as being very obvious, but also thinking it wasn’t such a bad idea. I’ve never seen this done elsewhere…?

    My best friend was the assitant decorator for Versailles on a few early episodes, and worked on the bedroom and early Versailles set. He bought most of the digital copies of period works from the French museum resource that handles most national museums like the Louvre. They were extremely attentive to place works that were actually in Versailles at the time (these details we not handled by the director or mentioned in the script). The pictures were printed onto canvases and places in faux plaster frames. He wanted to have them varnished to look more authentic but the decorator didn’t find it necessary, and they do look pretty flat on screen.

    I don’t know about the portraits because he wasn’t on those episodes but there was a problem with a castle view, in a scene where the project is shown to the king, on an easel in a hall. The view is an actual painting of the palace ( http://tinyurl.com/j6upy5y ) in its first state, before the making of the hall of mirrors (there was a kind of large flat balcony). When the director saw the finished set a few days before filming, he wanted the painting altered to show the façade as we see it today ( thus suggesting Louis had the idea right away, which is historically false ). An assistant had to modify the picture on photoshop really quickly and they had it reprinted. These kind of last minute changes and technical problems could explain some of those very dubious-looking digitalised pictures.

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  11. Kimberley

    Eeeeeeeee I finally have something of worth to contribute!!! The Dona potrait in the 98′ version of Frenchman’s Creek is a lot better while also being actresslike. The whole thing is on Youtube!

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  12. Maggie

    My personal favorite is the Leonardo da Vinci style portrait of Drew Barrymore/Danielle in Ever After. I thought they caught the feel of the style without doing an exact pasting of her face over the original. I think it’s really pretty, and I always kind of wish I could get a print of it. Especially since I love that movie and that character. http://everaftercostumes.com/portrait.shtml

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  13. Kristina G.

    As a professional illustrator I know that there are quite a few artists who’d be qualified to do a better job — but the problem is that the budget is just too low for better art. It is treated as an afterthought, as something the audience supposedly won’t notice. So no budget is made for the artists who’d actually be really good at it. That skill and style of painting is highly specialized, takes years to learn, so it’ll cost accordingly.

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    • andrebd

      I don’t even think the artists chosen were bad. But the direction and the style, and possibly the time they have to do the deed (and the fact that they have to portrait actors) doesn’t make it possible. It’s specially silly when it happens in Desperate Romantics, where they actually found actresses that looked like the models in the paintings, and where we can see Millais’ ophelia sketch in the first episode, and Holman hunt’s goat. So that Bocca Baciata of Rossetti is a bit WTF.
      In the case of Marie Antoinette and Belle, I can just imagine a producer/person in charge giving endless feedback. Could you heighten the cheekbones? could you make the nose thinner? Could you copypaste the head of the actresses and just paint on top?
      No one cares anyway!

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  14. C

    That awful portrait of Darcy! At least the miniature they show is a bit better. The first thing this post made me think of is the portrait of the two brothers in Wives & Daughters (1999), which happily someone has screenshotted:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-uu762-yfUZg/UXNmV5tUq9I/AAAAAAAABLQ/xUqZs3wwEDM/s1600/Levens+Hall+Wives+and+Daughters+Hamley+Hall+1.png

    I’m not versed enough in art history to know how this stacks up against British portraiture of the period (1820s or 30s, I think?), but — especially given that it’s prominently shown and the supposedly excellent resemblance discussed in the film — its total unlikeness to actors Tom Hollander and Anthony Howell is really, really noticeable.

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  15. Jamie LaMoreaux

    you know, if the movies were REALLY interested in picturing correct period art, they could simply hire a forger to do it. they replicate masterworks and could put in kirsten Dunsts face with ease and skill AND make it look right at the same time!!!!

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