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

Still from from Midnight in Paris. Source: A Sharper Focus.

Cinema

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 of the 19th century, as before in the 20th century depiction of Paris in the 1920s.

Though their depiction in the 2011 film is short (let’s be honest, I wish the film would have continued its peak into the world of Moulin Rouge and the artists of the 19th century), the overall theme of the movie lends itself to the brevity. Gil Pender’s time travels are a form of escapism into a world with which he feels he better identifies; and likewise, Adriana’s desires to be a part of the 1890s Paris… not the 1920s which she considers to be dull. She even chooses to stay in the past, furthering this idea of escapism and her idealistic thoughts.

Height of Paris in the 19th Century

Adriana dreams of living in the late 19th century of Paris; a time synonymous with the Moulin Rouge, the Montmartre, and such artists as Degas and Gauguin. (In turn, these artists believe the “time to be alive” was the Renaissance… are you able to see the trend?). Though their inclusion in the film is left to the last minute, they are no less important than the main figures of Part 1 to this piece and help Gil to see that he will always be yearning for a different time much like the other artists in the story.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a famous painter of 19th century France, was known for his unique style, as a poster-artist and painter; his famed works include scenes from the Moulin Rouge, as well as the realistic depictions of women around him.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, La Goulue arriving at the Moulin Rouge, 1892, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

As a young boy, Toulouse-Lauutrec suffered from breaking both his femurs subsequently and they never healed properly. This, among a plethora of other congenital health conditions, contributed to the deformation of the lower portion of his body. He only grew to just above 5 feet tall. Because he could not participate in many of the same activities as his fellow compatriots in France, Toulouse-Lautrec turned to art, diving in wholeheartedly. His art reflects the bohemian nature of Paris at the time.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Maurice Guibert, Toulouse-Lautrec Painting Toulouse-Lautrec, negative c. 1892/print c. 1910-1930, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA.

The below image still from the movie, showcases a few things to note: the alcohol on the table is indicative of Toulouse-Lautrec’s rampant alcoholism. It is no surprise that he turned to alcohol in order to forget the pain he carried in his body. The artist, portrayed by Vincent Menjou Cortes, is depicted as short, rather timid in nature, alone, and focused. As far as appearances go, the actor looks much like the artist from the waist up. Below, a sample of the script shows how others perceived the artist.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Scene with Toulouse-Lautrec, Adriana, and Gil from Midnight in Paris. Source: Youtube, 2019.
Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Sample of script from Midnight in Paris, Source: The Internet Movie Script Database, 2019.

Edgar Degas

Edgar Degas, Dancers, 1896, The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland.

One of the many ways to determine a Degas painting is the presence of ballerinas. Degas’ work featured the young girls as he captured their likeness in several mediums. The inclusion of the artist in the film is no mistake as he helped to pioneer the Impressionist art, although he himself did not like the term for his own work. Working alongside the other artists portrayed towards the end of the film, they transformed the style and techniques of the period, artistically navigating into the period of Post-Impressionism.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Edgar Degas, Untitled (self-portrait in library), ca. 1895, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA.

Because the inclusion of these three artists is left to the last part of the movie, their depictions and characteristics are generalized. I.e. in Degas’ case Gauguin asks, on behalf of Degas, portrayed by François Rostain, if Adriana wants to help design costumes for the ballet dancers; this reflects back to Degas’ heavy focus on the dancers in Paris during his active years in Paris.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Cropped image from scene of Degas and Adriana, Midnight in Paris, Source: Youtube, 2019.

Paul Gauguin

Paul Gauguin, Self Portrait with Halo, 1889, National Gallery of Art: Washington DC.

Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin, though born in France, spent time in Peru, France, Denmark, and Tahiti. He was enraptured by Asian and African cultures which shows in his work which was considered to be more savage than the art work of his contemporaries. By the time depicted in the film, Gauguin had been married, had several children, and divorced.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Scene of Gauguin and Gil, Midnight in Paris, Source: Youtube, 2019.

Like Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin’s depiction (Olivier Rabourdin) is just as generalized. For instance, Gil asks him essentially why he is not in Tahiti at this exact moment. The artist responds that while he does in fact live there, that business in Paris called. (Gauguin spent his last few years in Tahiti, but a brief stent back in Paris).

One of the main differences between the portrayal of artists in the beginning and the end of the film is the generalization throughout. Because some artists, writers, or musicians only appeared briefly, it was about packing as much information as possible into a short scene. And because of that, some of the nuances are lost to the brevity. Perhaps Gil should travel back in time in another installment of Midnight in Paris, or perhaps he should travel to the Renaissance, in “Midnight in Rome.”


Art historian (art lover, artist), general nomad, writer, Mom, and a pilot wife. 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 almond milk…in case you were wondering. Favorite art style is impressionism. Favorite theme is the Annunciation.

Check out my site here: https://rachelmbwitte.wixsite.com/wittylife

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