We love it when pop culture is adopting, using and remixing art history, especially when that mixture includes a T.V. show. If you’re a BoJack Horseman fan and an art aficionado, you’re going to love this article. (For related content you can check out our article about The Young Pope).
For those of you who are not familiar with BoJack, the star of the hit 90s T.V. show, Horsin’ Around, he’s a washed up, half-human half-horse living in Hollywood, complaining about everything, and always showing off his colorful sweaters. Now, eighteen years after his show has been cancelled, BoJack wants to regain his dignity. With the aid of a human sidekick and a feline ex-girlfriend, he sets out to make it happen. The series fearlessly traverses the tumultuous, emotional journey of this half-human half-horse with results that can sometimes be heartbreaking and hilarious. BoJack’s journeys through life also contain the occasional, comical reference to sex, drugs and alcohol.
Besides the crude humor references and the monologue about BoJack’s life happenings, this Netflix comedy informs its viewers about classic and contemporary art. Check out our round up of ALL of these artistic references from ALL FIVE SEASONS for you.
1. Henri Rousseau
Painter Henri Rousseau was ridiculed during much of his lifetime for painting in a naïve or primitive manner. As he became more advanced in his craft, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and other younger artists considered Rousseau a self-taught genius. His best-known work depicts imaginary jungle scenes inspired by his visits to the zoo. The presence of tall, luscious plants and a flat, disk-shaped sun are elements found in many of his works.
2. David Hockney, Portrait of an Artist
Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist, also known as Pool With Two Figures, is a painting that shares many commonalities with BoJack’s own story. Hockney moved from Great Britain to California in the 1960s and eventually lived in a house carved into a canyon . He is internationally acclaimed for his paintings of L.A. swimming pools. Hockney was said to have painted this composition while recovering from the break-up of a long-term relationship that oftentimes left him feeling depressed and isolating himself from the rest of the world. The painting illustrates a story of loneliness and detachment, a perfect artistic representation of BoJack’s ongoing turmoil.
3. Henri Matisse, Dance
Henri Matisse’s Dance depicts nude figures dancing freely in a circle. The story of the painting is quite extraordinary. A very wealthy Russian industrialist named Sergei Shchukin asked Matisse for three large scale canvases to decorate the spiral staircase of his mansion, the Trubetskoy Palace, in Moscow. As a result, Matisse created Dance. The composition has been described as forbidding, menacing, tribal, ritualistic, even demonic. This playful, yet sexualized scene is the perfect work of art to decorate the space in which BoJack is known throw lavish parties.
4. Andy Warhol
The pop-art like paintings of horseshoes above BoJack’s bed clearly refer to the vibrant compositions of Andy Warhol. Warhol loved repetitions. He often repeated one image and changed its colors. It is worth noting that Warhol himself loved and satirized celebrity culture, Hollywood, glamour, and pop culture, of course.
5. Mark Rothko
One of the pioneers of Color Field Painting, Mark Rothko, employed abstract arrangements of shapes, ranging from surreal biomorphic ones in his early works to the dark squares and rectangles in later years, are intended to evoke the metaphysical through viewers’ communion with the canvas in a controlled setting. In this episode, “Princess Caroline,” BoJack’s agent is trying to convince actor Wallace Shawn to play the role of BoJack Horseman in a movie called, Mr. Peanutbutter’s Hollywood Heist. The dialogue goes like this:
Princess Carolyn: I’m trying to help you out, Wally. You’re the one who keeps buying expensive Rothkos.
Wallace Shawn: I have a disease. Would you tell an alcoholic to stop buying alcohol?
Princess Carolyn: You know, Black and Blue Number 7’s going up for auction next week.
Wallace Shawn: Fine. I’ll do the dumb movie.
Rothko’s paintings often set auction records. For example, his No. 10 fetched $82.9 million at Christie’s in New York.
6. Keith Haring
Keith Haring was an American artist whose pop art and graffiti-inspired work has its roots in the New York City street culture of the 1980s. Haring’s work became iconic throughout New York City because of the many drawings of his that decorated the subways. The drawings consisted of chalk outlines on blank, black advertising-space backgrounds that featured images of radiant babies, flying saucers, and deified dogs. After much public praise, he created larger scale works such as colorful murals. His later work often addressed political and social themes, especially homosexuality and AIDS, through his own unique iconography. Keith Haring’s paintings are displayed on BoJack’s apartment wall when BoJack finds out his best friend Herb Kazzaz is gay.
7. Paul Cezanne
We don’t have to introduce Paul Cezanne and his still lifes. BoJack’s frenemy Mr. Peanutbutter owns “his” masterpiece of famous apples with some add-ons of things that dogs love the most: a newspaper and slippers.
8. Franz Marc
Franz Marc loved painting horses. He is most famous for his images of brightly-colored animals, which he used to convey profound messages about humanity, the natural world, and the fate of mankind. In association with the Russian painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Marc founded the group Der Blaue Reiter which emphasized the use of abstracted forms and bold colors. Der Blaue Reiter saw abstract shapes and bold colors as symbolic tools to overcome what they saw as the toxic state of the modern world. As World War I approached, the tension of Marc’s paintings came into sharp focus, almost as if he foresaw both his own fate and that of Europe as a whole.
9. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat was an American artist. Basquiat first achieved fame as part of SAMO, an informal graffiti duo who wrote enigmatic epigrams in the cultural hotbed of the Lower East Side of Manhattan during the late 1970s where the hip hop, punk, and street art movements had coalesced. Basquiat’s art focused on “suggestive dichotomies”, such as wealth versus poverty, integration versus segregation, and inner versus outer experience. He appropriated poetry, drawing, and painting, and married text and image, abstraction, figuration, and historical information mixed with contemporary critique.
Basquiat used social commentary in his paintings as a “springboard to deeper truths about the individual”, as well as an attack on power structures and systems of racism, while his poetics were acutely political and direct in their criticism of colonialism and support for class struggle. He died of a heroin overdose at his art studio at age 27.
You can see the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat in BoJack’s friend Herb Kazzaz’s office. Haring (see no. 6) and Basquiat were one of the most prominent artist in the 80s. But they also were close friends, like BoJack and Herb.
10. Claude Monet, Water Lilies
Water Lilies is a series of approximately 250 oil paintings by the French Impressionist Claude Monet. The paintings depict his flower garden at his home in Giverny, and were the main focus of his artistic production during the last thirty years of his life. Many of the works were painted while Monet suffered from cataracts.
12. Cassius Marcellus Coolidge, Dogs Playing Poker
Dogs Playing Poker by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge refers simultaneosuly to an 1894 painting, a 1903 series of sixteen oil paintings commissioned by Brown & Bigelow to advertise cigars, and a 1910 painting. All the eighteen paintings in the overall series feature anthropomorphized dogs, but the eleven in which dogs are seated around a card table have become well known in the United States as examples of kitsch art in home decoration. Here, the poker has been replaced by the less “hardcore” game- connect four.
13. Emanuel Leutze, Washington Crossing the Delaware
That’s a perfect painting for the Oval Office. Leutze’s depiction of Washington’s attack on the Hessians at Trenton on December 25, 1776, was a great success. What’s interesting, the original was part of the collection at the Kunsthalle in Bremen, Germany, and was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1942, during the World War II. Leutze painted two more versions, one of which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The other was in the West Wing reception area of the White House in Washington, D.C.; but since March 2015, it has been on display at The Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota.
14. Edouard Manet, Olympia
Olympia shows a nude woman lying on a bed and being brought flowers by a servant. Olympia was modelled on Victorine Meurent and Olympia’s servant on the art model Laure. Her confrontational gaze caused shock and astonishment when the painting was first exhibited, especially because a number of details in the picture identified her as a prostitute. Also, take a look at the cat in the right corner – in the show it’s anthropomorphised.
15. Damien Hirst, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living
The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is an artwork created in 1991 by Damien Hirst, an English artist and a leading member of the “Young British Artists” (or YBA). It consists of a tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde in a vitrine. It was originally commissioned in 1991 by Charles Saatchi, who sold it in 2004 to Steven A. Cohen for an undisclosed amount, widely reported to have been $8 million. It is considered the iconic work of British art of the 1990s, and has become a symbol of Britart worldwide. Because the shark was initially preserved poorly, it began to deteriorate and the surrounding liquid grew murky. It was replaced by a new shark, but the second one didn’t have boxer shorts either.
16. Pablo Picasso, Figure at the Seaside
A series of bizarre erotic beach scenes was painted in the summer of 1931 at Picasso’s French Riviera vacation resort, Juan-les-Pins. Said to be inspired by the 50-year-old painter’s liaison with 19-year-old model, Marie-Therese Walter, the grotesque nature of the depicted forms reduces this moment of intimate contact to a level of crudity, probably more representative of his deteriorating relationship with his wife, Olga. Perfect for the hotel in Pacific Ocean City.
17. George Bellows, Stag at Sharkey’s
George Bellows (1882–1925) was regarded as one of America’s greatest artists when he died, at the age of forty-two, from a ruptured appendix. Bellows’s early fame rested on his powerful depictions of boxing matches and gritty scenes of New York City’s tenement life, but he also painted cityscapes, seascapes, war scenes, and portraits, and made illustrations and lithographs that addressed many of the social, political, and cultural issues of the day. Here, we don’t see New York Boxers but Ahab and Moby Dick.
18. The Ancient Mosaic
The roman style mosaic in BoJack’s bathroom is typical of ones that archeologists find in the home of aristocrats.
19. Diego Rivera, Man Loading Donkey with Firewood
Painted in 1938, this image of a farmer and his donkey is an example of Rivera’s many portrayals of rural Mexican life. Without seeing his face, we are free to impose any identity on the hat-wearing farmer – he could by any of the myriad agricultural workers scattered throughout the nation. The twist of fate: Rivera belonged to the Mexican Communist party and was obviously against Capitalism but now his works are being sold for high selling prices. And his work hangs of one of the superexpensive restaurant in Hollywoo
20. Gustav Klimt, The Kiss
The painting in which the humans are replaced with snakes hangs in the apartment of a famous actor Alexi Brosefino, is an obvious reference to Klimt’s art nouveau masterpiece. Klimt also painted another painting entitled Serpents, which presents beautiful, naked women. The painting shows up in the episode, where Diane tries to regain the intimacy with her husband – the same of which The Kiss is the symbol.
21. John Everett Millais, Ophelia
Ophelia is one of the most popular Pre-Raphaelite works one of the best-known illustrations from Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”. The paintings put above Sarah Lynn’s bed shows her literary alter ego – Ophelia and her tragic death.
But no more spoilers – if you’ve seen the episode you know why it’s there!
22. Marc Chagall, The Birthday
On the painting, we can see Chagall and his wife Bella both floating in the air and kissing. In the episode, Sarah Lynn, claims that the painting is made of LSD, and I think many regrets now it’s not.
23. Madame X
Madame X is the painting by John Singer Sargent of a young socialite named Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau, wife of the French banker Pierre Gautreau. The portrait was painted not as a commission, but at the request of Sargent. Sargent shows a woman posing in a black satin dress with jeweled straps, a dress that reveals and veils at the same time. Madame X is a symbol of the New York upper-class and it’s one of the most known society portraits of it’s times. In this episode we find out that Ralph’s upper-class family is quite snobbish and mean. Works perfectly with the mousey version of Sargent’s portrait on the family mansion’s wall!
24. Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe explored the landscape of the United States. Jimson Weed, White Flower No. 1, depicts one of O’Keeffe’s favorite subjects: a magnified flower. To her, the delicate blooms stood as some of the most overlooked pieces of naturally occurring beauty.”When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.” In this episode Princess Caroline is visiting her gynecologist. The O’Keeffe on the wall is a reference to the widely accepted assumptions that her famous flowers paintings are depictions of female genitalia.
25. Edgar Degas
There’s a parody of a Degas painting in there. In this heartbreaking dementia episode, when we are seeing the memories of BoJack’s mother Beatrice, we are in the bar at the cotillion, at her debutante ball. Degas is especially associated with the subject of dance, and over half his works depict dancers. In many subsequent paintings dancers were shown backstage or at rehearsals, emphasizing their status as professionals having a real job. From 1870, Degas increasingly painted ballet subjects, partly because they sold well and provided him with the needed income after his brother’s debts had left the family bankrupt.
We wonder what other quirky art references will happen in the next season of BoJack Horseman. I expect something spectacular like Salvator Mundi and all the possible jokes about Leonardo di Caprio / da Vinci – but we will see what art in BoJack Horseman will occur in the fifth season this year!
26. George Rodrigue, Blue Dog
Spotted! One of our readers, Jacek Oleander noted that in the episode nine of the second season on the wall near Cassius Marcellus Coolidge we can see Blue Dog by George Rodrigue. The artist’s career really took off when he started to paint those dogs. By the early 1990s, they became his only subject. He painted Blue Dogs with presidents, with naked women, on the lawn with his Aioli dining club party, inside a soup can, in ads for Absolut Vodka and next to Marilyn Monroe. Or with a big red cajun.
As the artist said to The New York Times in the interview: “The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog. He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different. People who have seen a Blue Dog painting always remember it. They are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you. And you’re looking at him, looking for some answers, ‘Why are we here?,’ and he’s just looking back at you, wondering the same. The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
So, the Dog symbolises everything important in life. The one in BoJack Horseman wearing red pants apparently too.
27. Heather Jansch
Heather Jansch is a British sculptor notable for making life-sized sculptures of horses from driftwood. She has also used cork as a material in her creations. We can see “her” work in the season 02 episode 09 in the famous shooting scene where the Esteemed Character Actress Margo Martindale is showing her real character in the art gallery. Of course, in the Hollywoo world, the horse stands on two legs. [Isaac, thank you for spotting!]
28. Philip Shelton, Man Diving
Philip Shelton Sears (November 12, 1867 – March 10, 1953) was an American tennis player and sculptor. His sculptures centre around sport disciplines, for example in 2007, one of his artworks, Pumanangwet (He Who Shoots the Stars), sold for $11,250 at Christie’s. In the art gallery we see the dolphin sculpture that might have been inspired by his Man Diving.
29. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus
The absolute classic, The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli in the BoJack’s world is a fresco on the wall of BoJack’s restaurant, Elefante. As the name of the place suggests, originally Simonetta Vespucci has been replaced by the elephant version of the famous Renaissance muse. [
30. Roy Lichtenstein, Grrrrrrrrrrr!!
In Mr. Peanutbutter’s bedroom there is a Lichtenstein’s piece with a mad dog. No other explanations are needed here. We all know how mad Mr. Peanutbutter can be. / Thank you Luis Janela for spotting this 🙂
*** 5th SEASON UPDATE ***
If you haven’t seen the 5th season of BoJack yet, watch out, there will be spoilers! But as we have already seen it, we have found in it some interesting art references (and we are the first in the world with them!)
31. Tiffany’s lamp
A Tiffany lamp is a type of lamp with a glass shade made with glass designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his design studio. The most famous one was the stained leaded glass lamp. Tiffany lamps are considered part of the Art Nouveau movement and they are an absolute classic. Tiffany’s major source of inspiration was nature in all its guises, and his love of flowers is superbly reflected in his lamp designs. One of such lamps stands on the desk in Todd’s office. Perfect for every executive who respects tradition. And as it is What Time Is It Right Now.com office – it has a clock.
32. Claude Monet, The Japanese Footbridge
The print with The Japanese Footbridge by the Impressionist master Claude Monet hangs in the new cheap apartament of Diane. It’s something that can hang in any dorm of any art student. Shame that it usually falls off the wall whenever someone closes the door of the apartament.
The Japanese Footbridge was painted in Monet’s dream estate in Giverny. It is an awful comparison to Diane’s new home whose awful condition mirrors Diane’s broken life after the divorce. Monet painted dozens versions of this footbridge since it was one of his favorite subjects in his last years.
33. Georgia O’Keefe, Calla Lily Turned Away
Another Georgia O’Keefe’s-like flower is hanging on the wall of the family house of Yolanda Buenaventura’s, Todd’s asexual girlfriend. This more than friendly family is obsessed with sex (what can be clearly visible in episode three), and O’Keeffe’s flower (as in the episode 9 of season 4) is again used here as a veiled representation of female genitalia. Actually, Yolanda’s parents’ house is full of not only erotic gadgets but also art.
34. Robert Mapplethorpe, Joe/Rubberman
In the same living room of the same sex-obsessed parents there is a Mapplethorpe’s photography entitled originally Joe/Rubberman. The famous American photographer immortalized the New York gay scene of the 80’s. The resulting images are beautifully lit – stark bodies of muscular men (and women). They still provoke and shock. /@Stephenspower thank you for spotting 🙂
35. Antonio Canova, Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix
Pauline Bonaparte as Venus Victrix (or Venus Victorious) is a semi-nude life-size reclining neo-Classical portrait sculpture by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Reviving the ancient Roman artistic traditions of portrayals of mortal individuals in the guise of the gods, he was commissioned by Pauline Bonaparte’s husband Camillo Borghese to execute this beautiful female form reclining on a couch in Rome from 1805 to 1808, after the subject’s marriage into the Borghese family. Canova was first instructed to depict Pauline Bonaparte fully clothed as the chaste goddess Diana, but Pauline insisted on Venus. She had a reputation for promiscuity, and may have enjoyed the controversy of posing naked. The small figurine looking like this sculpture is placed on the bookstand in Yolanda’s parents’ house.
36. Upper Paleolithic Venus
Another interesting artefact on this bookstand is one of the Upper Paleolithic Venus figurines. Created between 35,000–21,000 BCE, most of them have small heads, wide hips, and legs that taper to a point. Various figurines have exaggerated abdomen, hips, breasts, thighs, or vulva (or all of them). Their meaning remains unknown, they have been seen as religious figures, as erotic art or sex aids, or as self-depictions by female artists. The most famous one is Venus of Willendorf. In the case of Buenaventuras house you know what it represents.
37. Thomas Kinkade
In the house Princess Carolyn’s lived as a teen, on the wall of the poor living room there is a piece of Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade was an American painter of popular realistic, pastoral, and idyllic subjects. He is notable for the mass marketing of his work as printed reproductions and other licensed products via the Thomas Kinkade Company. According to Kinkade’s company, one in every twenty American homes owns a copy of one of his paintings. / @JamesTough9 thank you for this 🙂
38. Louis Wain, Flower Eyes Cat
Louis Wain was an English artist best known for his drawings, which consistently featured anthropomorphised large-eyed cats and kittens. In his later years he may have suffered from schizophrenia (although this claim is disputed among specialists), which, according to some psychiatrists, can be seen in his works. For sure, one of his works hangs on Princess Caroline’s wall. Or rather on the imagined wall of imagined Princess Caroline’s apartament in the story told by Princess Caroline’s therapist. Uff. Work for me in the context of Wain’s possible insanity. / Tadeusz Nowakowski, thank you for spotting 🙂
39. Pablo Picasso, Dora Maar
In the Halloween episode of the series we see two historic decors of BoJack’s mansion. The one from 1993 has Keith Haring’s works on the wall, which we have already discussed in this article. The decor from 2004 includes Pablo Picasso’s-like female horse portrait, reminding one of his Dora Maar’s portraits. In the original, Dora is majestically seated in an armchair, smiling and resting her head on a long-fingered hand. Her face is shown in a combined frontal and profile view. For many people, these deformations are the very hallmark of Picasso’s art. This is the absolute proof that BoJack always had a good eye for art – or at least to some deformed portraits of mares – oh, maybe that’s a pun? Dora Maar – Dora Mare?
40. Alex Katz, The Green Cap
Next to Picasso’s portrait there is Alex Katz’s The Green Cap. Alex Katz is an American figurative artist known for his paintings, sculptures, and prints. His art is a dialogue between realism and more abstract tendencies in modernism with a conrtibution from both Pop Art and Contemporary Art, as you can see yourself here. And again we have a pun here. The painting on BoJack’s wall presents a cat in the green cap. And you know, katze, means a cat in German. Mind blowing, isn’t it?
If you have spotted some reference to art we have missed in this article (that fat Buddha statue in the studio looking like an AliExpress plastic nightmare doesn’t count) – please write the comment below! 🙂
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