Top Five Artist Biopics



Artists are known for leading colourful, eventful lives encompassing a spectrum of joy, pain, love, loss, creativity and, sometimes, destruction. Films celebrating art and the lives of artists capture these shades of emotion with vivid realism, drawing upon actual events to produce on-screen drama.

The following art biopics include a mix of Oscar winners and edgy, independent classics, and a recent feature about art muse Effie Gray. Effie Gray includes reproductions of John Millais' paintings by artist Alexander Newley, who used Winsor & Newton materials for the purpose.

Read on to learn more about five unforgettable art films and the icons who inspired them.


Girl with a Pearl Earring

Dutch Painter Vermeer only produced 36 paintings during his career, of which the portrait Girl with a Pearl Earring is among the most famous.

The story of this film adaptation was imagined by novelist Tracy Chevalier, who wrote a historical novel which took its name from the painting. Very little is known about Vermeer, so the author conjured up nuances of the story based entirely on emotions evoked by the painting and the few facts known about Vermeer’s life.

Girl with a Pearl Earring focuses on Griet, a servant girl working in Vermeer’s household, following her as she blossoms into womanhood and attracts the attention of the artist, his patron and a local butcher. As she navigates her maturation, Griet finds herself the subject of the seminal painting and of Vermeer's obsession.



This heartbreaking biopic encapsulates the booming New York art scene of the late 1970s and early '80s. The story follows Jean-Michel Basquiat's rise to fame, which began with the artist living on the streets and gaining notoriety as part of the graffiti crew SAMO. 

During a very short period of time he went from being a homeless ‘graff’ artist to a darling of Andy Warhol and the toast of the New York art scene, mixing and working with the likes of Keith Haring and David Bowie. Basquiat's painting was visually dynamic and included cultural references to his Hatian heritage, politics and poetry.

Tragically, Basquiat never managed to overcome his mental health woes and addiction problems, eventually dying of a heroin overdose at age 27. His paintings are regularly sold for record-breaking amounts of money in auction houses all over the world, and the film, boasting an all-star cast, is now a cult classic.



Jackson Pollock’s ‘splash’ paintings wowed and revolutionised the art world. In an industry well known for its overblown linguistics, there are scant words suitable to describe the influence of this American abstract expressionist.

The film centres around the painter's romantic life and his rise through the ranks of the New York art scene during the 1930s and '40s. Pollock was torn between his wife, Lee Krasner, who is credited with much of his career success, and his mistress Ruth Kligman, in addition to suffering from alcohol abuse throughout the duration of his adult life.

Marcia Gay Harden was awarded an Oscar for her performance as Krasner, and Ed Harris, who played the painter himself, was nominated in the Best Actor category for his work in the film.


I Shot Andy Warhol

Valerie Solanas was a face in Andy Warhol’s Factory scene during the late 1970s and early '80s, keen to gain recognition as a writer at the time. Considered an odd character, her works were considered too extreme for even the avant garde Factory, thus leading to their rejection.

In reaction, Valerie shot Andy Warhol in 1968 after he failed to return a script she had written, claiming he had ‘too much control over her life’. Her actions led to lifelong health problems for Warhol and a scaling back of the famously open Factory where Warhol lived and worked.

The film is narrated by Lilli Taylor as Solanas, who gives an impressive performance as the troubled, fascinating character.


Effie Gray

More muse than artist, Effie Gray was the wife of English water colourist, art critic, intellectual and founder of the Modern Painters John Ruskin. Effie Gray follows the story of their loveless marriage and her romantic entanglement with the French painter John Millais.

The reproductions of Millais’ work used in the film were made using various Winsor & Newton materials by artist Alexander Newley, who recreated famous masterpieces such as Ophelia, 1851-2.

Interested in learning more about master painters? Read our article about JMW Turner's inspired colour choices and Winsor & Newton's role in the production of the Oscar-nominated film Mr Turner.

All images via Wiki Commons