Connect with us – Art History Stories

Representation vs Reality: Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris. Part I

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1889, Museum of Modern Art: New York City


Representation vs Reality: Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris. Part I

In Woody Allen’s 2011 Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson plays a nostalgic screenwriter who somehow finds himself transported back in time to 1920s Paris… a time period which Owen’s character, Gil Pender, deems a “golden age of thinking.” Within his time traveling, Gil is introduced to the important literary, musical, and artistic players of the City of Love.

Among the greats that we have come to know and love, are the Fitzgeralds, both F. Scott and Zelda, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Dali, and Picasso. The air of these characters’ portrayal is what drives the movie as whimsical yet historical. Let’s start with artists from 1920s.

Representation vs Reality

When it comes to films such as Midnight in Paris, one must approach the character portrayal and story-line with a grain of salt. The overall genres of the film are comedy, drama, and romance. With that in mind, and also taking into consideration the rest of Allen’s filmography, we must ask ourselves if his representation of the famous artists and writers is mostly exaggerated or is it based in truth? Can it be both? And how does that play to his advantage? And is the combination of these what makes it one of my favorite films of our generation? Quite possibly.

Pablo Picasso

Midnight in Paris, 1920s:

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Image still of Picasso from Midnight in Paris. YouTube

Real life, 1920s: In the film, Picasso is noted as having a mistress, named Adriana. In real life, perhaps his mistress(es, yes multiple) were not as clear. He had many mistresses, ranging from prostitutes to his muses, but only married twice.

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Salvador Dali

Midnight in Paris, 1920s: Adrian Brody’s depiction of the surrealist artist is entertaining. Lest we forget the line, “I see…a rhinoceros!” Allen’s direction and Brody’s depiction of the eccentric man allowed for an over the top representation, and it is safe to say that had they reigned themselves in too tightly, this particular character could have fallen flat.

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Image Still of Dali from Midnight in Paris. Youtube

Real life: Adrian Brody locked in those crazy eyes! Dali was a man known for his crazy antics and personality. His art was larger than life, filled with imagination, and odd themes…melting clocks, deserts, and overall psychoanalytical themes. His works are as theatrical as he was in real life!

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Photograph of Salvador Dali, 1934. Wikimedia Commons

Henri Matisse

Midnight in Paris, 1920s: In the film, Matisse is portrayed by French actor, Yves-Antione Spoto. His role in the film is rather a marginal one.

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Image still of Matisse from Midnight in Paris. YouTube

Real life: Picasso and Matisse first met already in April 1906 and became lifelong friends (and rivals). They were first brought together at the Paris salon of Gertrude Stein with her companion Alice B. Toklas. While numerous artists visiting the Stein salon were not represented among the paintings on the walls at 27 rue de Fleurus, there were plenty of Matisse. He was in that time already a renown master instructing young artists at the Académie Matisse. However, he moved away from Paris in 1917 so maybe in the film, he is portrayed just visiting the City of Lights and old friends…

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Henri Matisse in Monte-Carlo, 1920. Wikimedia Commons

Man Ray

Midnight in Paris, 1920s: Tom Cordier’s scene in the film is short-lived but memorable. He is depicted as being serious and philosophical compared to Dali’s over the top attitude towards life with whom he shares a scene.

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

A film-still shot of Tom Cordier playing Man Ray in Midnight in Paris. IMDB

Real life: Throughout his career, Man Ray dabbled in many mediums and genres of art. He was able to move between abstract art forms such as Cubism and Dada, his work in photography is what most may remember him for. Unfortunately, the film does not spend much time on Man Ray, possibly only including him because he was in the included circle of artists and writers during 1920s Paris. His style of photography, which he himself deemed ‘Rayography,’ would have been an interesting discussion point as it was a camera-less version of capturing images. I believe there was more yet to be discovered and portrayed in the film about this certain character.

Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris

Carl Van Vechten, Man Ray in Paris, June 16, 1934. Wikimedia Commons

I believe it is safe to say that Allen’s film is a homage to the time period while also giving an insight into these artists’ lives and personalities, some in depth and others not so much. Had some of the characters not been portrayed as heavily as they were, perhaps the film would not as enjoyable as it is.

There are several artists that appear after Gil and Adriana experience another time jump… this time into the height of the Moulin Rouge in Paris in the 19th century, where they meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas, and Paul Gauguin. Let’s keep them for part II.

Learn more:


Art historian (art lover, artist), general nomad, writer, Mom to 2 girls, and wife to a pilot. When she’s not spending all of her free time reading and writing YA novels, she can be found at her favorite coffee shop drinking coffee in all its various forms…right now, that’s an iced vanilla latte half sweet with oat milk…in case you were wondering. Favorite art style is impressionism. Favorite theme is the Annunciation.



More in Cinema

  • Art State of Mind

    Art in The Crown: Spies, Secrets and The Royal Art Collection


    The Crown is not amused… There’s a scandal brewing behind the doors of Buckingham Palace. Let’s investigate art in The Crown, season 3. If you’re anything like me, the moment that Netflix released the newest installment of their hit series The Crown was also the moment...

  • Art State of Mind

    The Art in Friends TV Series


    Who doesn’t love Friends? Without a doubt, it is one of the most watched and most loved TV series in history. We all know about this group of best buds and their hangout spot, Central Perk. Huge coffee mugs, a variety of sweets, a decoration that...

  • 20th century

    Filmmaking is like Painting – Andrzej Wajda as a Painter


    Ladies and Gentlemen, and now I will speak in Polish… – the famous words Polish director Andrzej Wajda (1926-2016) said while receiving an honorary Oscar in 2000 for a lifetime achievement crowned WAJDA, an exhibition revealing Wajda as a painter. Andrzej Wajda is one of the...

  • 19th Century

    Representation vs Reality: Artists Portrayed in Midnight in Paris. Part 2


    Once upon a time, Part 1 to this piece was written. Given that the year is coming to a close in a few short months, it seemed pertinent to continue the discussion on how Woody Allen and his team of actors portrayed the artists and world...

  • Cinema

    Through Scissors and Shadows: The Art and Films of Lotte Reiniger


    Late one night while struggling with a bit of insomnia, I was channel surfing. I came across a stunning and hypnotic, silent, animated film that was so enthralling, I easily stayed awake to finish it. The film was Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926)....

To Top

Just to let you know, DailyArt Magazine’s website uses cookies to personalise content and adverts, to provide social media features and to analyse traffic. Read cookies policy