Theater & Cinema

What did the Artists from ‘Midnight in Paris’ Look Like in Real Life? 19th Century

Rachel Witte 27 February 2021 min Read

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.” In a previous article I showed you the filmmakers’ creations of the 20th century artists, here are the celebrities of the Belle Époque. Meet 19th century artists portrayed in Midnight in Paris!

Though their depiction in the 2011 film is short (let’s be honest, I wish the film would have continued its peek into the world of Moulin Rouge and the artists of the 19th century), the overall theme of the movie lends itself to this brevity. Gil Pender’s time travels are a form of escapism into a world with which he feels he better identifies, likewise to Adriana’s desire 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, 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. They 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 realistic depictions of women around him.

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

As a young boy, Toulouse-Lautrec suffered from breaking both his femurs and they subsequently 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. Since 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, Toulouse-Lautrec
Maurice Guibert, Toulouse-Lautrec Painting Toulouse-Lautrec, negative c. 1892, print c. 1910-1930, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

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, Toulouse-Lautrec 19th century artists in Midnight in Paris
19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: movie still, scene with Toulouse-Lautrec, Adriana, and Gil from Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen, 2017.

Portrayed in Midnight in Paris
Script excerpt, from Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen, 2017.

Edgar Degas

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

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 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.

19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: Portrayed in Midnight in Paris; Edgar Degas
Edgar Degas, Untitled (Self-portrait in Library), ca. 1895, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA, USA.

Since the inclusion of these three artists is left to the last part of the film, their depictions and characteristics are generalized. For example, 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.

19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: Portrayed in Midnight in Paris; Edgar Degas
19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: movie still, scene with Edgar Degas and Adriana, Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen, 2017.

Paul Gauguin

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

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, also his work was considered to be more savage than that of his contemporaries. By the time depicted in the film, Gauguin had been married, had several children, and divorced.

19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: Portrayed in Midnight in Paris; Paul Gauguin
19th century artists in Midnight in Paris: movie still, scene with Paul Gauguin and Gil, Midnight in Paris, dir. Woody Allen, 2017.

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 had a brief stint 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. As a result, some of the nuances are lost to 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.”

Recommended

Squid Game. Art reference to Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party in Squid Game, S1E08. Squid Game/ Netflix. Theater & Cinema

Squid Game: Art in the Darkest of Places

Television may not have as long a history as other art forms. Nonetheless, it has taken inspiration from them. Now it is time for the most popular...

Jimena Escoto 17 December 2021

Theater & Cinema

Artists in Prime Time: Art Featured in The Simpsons

Back in the mid- 1990s, a friend of mine showed me a book titled Bart Simpson’s Guide to Life. It was just what the title described,...

Bruno Guerra 17 December 2021

Theater & Cinema

Saul Bass: Revolutionizing Cinema Through Graphic Design

Saul Bass (1920—1996) was an American graphic designer and filmmaker who introduced title sequences, reinvented movie posters, and crafted several...

Ruxi Rusu 1 July 2021

Theater & Cinema

Beautiful Horrors: Art in the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Spoiler Alert!)

From the beginning of season 3 of Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Ms. Wardwell hits the nail on the head. As you will see below,...

Abreeza Thomas 17 December 2021