Guardians of the Secret by Jackson Pollock (1943) described in the film Play It Again, Sam.
[Allan, the Woody Allen character is recently separated, he has two friends who are keen for him to begin dating again and here, in a museum one of them persuades him to approach a woman, played by Diana Davila in one of her few roles.]
Allan: It’s a lovely Jackson Pollock.
Woman: Yes, it is.
Allan: What does it say to you?
Woman: It restates the negativeness of the universe. The hideous, lonely emptiness of existence. Nothingness. The predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void with nothing but waste, horror and degradation forming a useless straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.
Allan: What are you doing Saturday?
Woman: Committing suicide.
Allan: What about Friday night?
[The image is from:
and the stills are taken from:
The Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia von Harden by Otto Dix (1926) reenacted during the opening song Willkomen of the film Cabaret.
Animate gif made from:
Varus by Anselm Kiefer (1976) described in A Man in Love. My Struggle: 2 by Karl Ove Knausgaard translated by Don Bartlett.
[The first speaker is the autobiographical character, the second his friend Geir, based on the author Geir Angell Øygarden, they are discussing the different meaning of land, wilderness and place and they are discussing the social and physical world and the idea of “vitality”.]
"Have you seen that picture by Anselm Kiefer? It’s of a forest. All you can see is trees and snow, with red stains in places, and then there are some names of German poets written in white. Hölderlin, Rilke, Fichte, Kleist. It’s the greatest work of art since the war, perhaps in the whole of the previous century. What does it depict? A forest. What’s it about? Well, Auschwitz of course. Where’s the connection? It’s not about ideas, it reaches right down into the depths of culture, and it can’t be expressed in ideas."
"Have you had a chance to see Shoah?
"Forest, forest and more forest. And faces. Forest and gas and faces."
"The picture’s called Varus. As far as I remember, he was a Roman army commander who lost a decisive battle in Germany. The line goes right back from the 70s to Tacitus. Schama traces it in Landscape and Memory. We could have added Odin, who hangs himself from a tree. Perhaps he does, I don’t remember. But it’s forest.”
"I can see where you’re going."
"When I read Lucretius it’s all about the magnificence of the world. And that, the magnificence of the world, is of course a Baroque concept. It dies with the Baroque age. It’s about things. The physicality of things. Animals. Trees. Fish. If you’re sorry that action has disappeared, I’m sorry the world has disappeared. The physicality of it. We only have pictures of it. That’s what we relate to. But the apocalypse, what is it now? Trees disappearing in South America? Ice melting, the waters rising. If you write to recapture your gravity, I write to recapture the world. Yes, not the world I’m in. Definitely not the social world. The wonder-rooms of the Baroque age. The curiosity cabinets. And the world in Kiefer’s trees. That’s art. Nothing else."
"You’ve got me there. Yes a picture?"
The Adoration of the Child by Correggio (c. 1526) described in The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.
She left the inn and pursued her course along the quay to the severe portico of the Uffizi, through which she presently reached the entrance of the famous gallery of paintings. Making her way in, she ascended the high staircase which leads to the upper chambers. The long corridor, glazed on one side and decorated with antique busts, which gives admission to these apartments, presented an empty vista in which the bright winter light twinkled upon the marble floor. The gallery is very cold and during the midwinter weeks but scantily visited. Miss Stackpole may appear more ardent in her quest of artistic beauty than she has hitherto struck us as being, but she had after all her preferences and admirations. One of the latter was the little Correggio of the Tribune—the Virgin kneeling down before the sacred infant, who lies in a litter of straw, and clapping her hands to him while he delightedly laughs and crows. Henrietta had a special devotion to this intimate scene - she thought it the most beautiful picture in the world. On her way, at present, from New York to Rome, she was spending but three days in Florence, and yet reminded herself that they must not elapse without her paying another visit to her favourite work of art. She had a great sense of beauty in all ways, and it involved a good many intellectual obligations.
The Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 1562) described in Underworld by Don DeLillo.
[Edgar J. Hoover is at a baseball match; the match in which Bobby Thomson scored the winning home run known as “the shot that was heard around the world”. A man behind Hoover tears up a magazine.]
In the box seats J. Edgar Hoover plucks a magazine page off his shoulder, where the thing had lighted and stuck. At first he’s annoyed that the object has come in contact with his body. Then his eyes fall upon the page. It is a color reproduction of a painting crowded with medieval figures who are dying or dead - a landscape of visionary havoc and ruin. Edgar has never seen a painting quite like this. It covers the page completely and must surely dominate the magazine. Across the red-brown earth, skeleton armies on the march. Men impaled on lances, hung from gibbets, drawn on spoked wheels fixed on the tops of bare trees, bodies open to the crows. Legions of the dead forming up behind shields made of coffin lids. Death himself astride a slat-ribbed hack, he is peaked for blood, his scythe held ready as he presses people in haunted swarms towards the entrance of some helltrap, an oddly modern construction that could be a subway tunnel or office corridor. A background of ash skies and burning ships. It is clear to Edgar that the page is form Life and he tries to work up an anger, he asks himself why a magazine called Life would want to reproduce a painting of such lurid and dreadful dimensions. But he can’t take his eyes of the page.
[Later in the novel we learn that Hoover has become “morbidly obsessed” with the painting, has “framed reproductions and enlarged details stored and hung in his basement rumpus room” and even that he has opened negotiations with Spain in the hope they will present it as a gift to the American people. These are abandoned after the Palomares Incident
The Cambridge Companion to Don DeLillo by John N. Duvall confirms that Life did reproduce the painting in 1951.
The details above are not all to the same scale. The image is taken from
A still from Le Retour à la Raison by Man Ray (1923) reenacted in Kiki de Montparnasse: The Graphic Biography by Jose-Luis Bocquet and Catel Muller.
[Still taken from
Et in Arcadia Ego by Nicolas Poussin (late 1630s) misremembered in Arcadia by Tom Stoppard.
[Lady Croom is complaining about a painting in progress of her estate.]
Lady Croom: But Sidley Park is already a picture, and a most amiable picture too. The slopes are green and gentle. The trees are companionably grouped at intervals that show them to advantage. The rill is a serpentine ribbon unwound from the lake peaceably contained by meadows on which the right amount of sheep are tastefully arranged - in short, it is nature as God intended, and I can say with the painter, ‘Et in Arcadia ego!' 'Here I am in Arcadia,' Thomasina.
Thomasina: Yes, mama, if you would have it so.
Lady Croom: Is she correcting my taste or my translation?
Thomasina: Neither are beyond correction, mama, but it was your geography caused the doubt.
[As the precocious Thomasina knows, the phrase “Et in Arcadia ego”: “I am in Arcadia also” is traditionally held to be uttered by Death. The painting, or the phrase, gives the title to the idyllic book one of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and, memorably, is the name of Judge Holden's gun in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.
Just about the meridian of that day we come upon the judge on his rock there in that wilderness by his single self. Aye and there was no rock, just the one. Irving said he’d brung it with him. I said that it was a merestone for to mark him out of nothing at all. He had with him that selfsame rifle you see with him now, all mounted in german silver and the name that he’d give it set with silver wire under the checkpiece in latin: Et In Arcadia Ego. A reference to the lethal in it.
The picture is from
which also shows the other Poussin painting with the same name.
The Sleeping Gypsy by Henri Rousseau (1897) reenacted in The Simpson S10E19 Mom and Pop Art.
[Homer has become an outsider artist, seeking to develop his art he goes to a museum, falls asleep and dreams.]
Nude on a Sofa (Almaiisa) by Amadeo Modigliani (1916) described in After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie by Jean Rhys.
[The protagonist Julia Martin has gone to sit for an artist.]
And all the time I talked I was looking at a rum picture she had on the wall - a reproduction of a picture by a man called Modigliani. Have you ever heard of him? This picture is of a woman lying on a couch, a woman with a lovely, lovely body. Oh, utterly lovely. Anyhow, I thought so. A sort of proud body, like an utterly lovely proud animal. And a face like a mask, a long, dark face, and very big eyes. The eyes were blank, like a mask, but when you looked at it a bit it was as if you were looking at a real woman, a live woman. At least, that’s how it was with me.
Well, all the time I was talking I had the feeling I was explaining things not only to Ruth - that was her name - but I was explaining them to myself too, and to the woman in the picture.
I felt as if the woman in the picture were laughing at me and saying: I am more real than you. But at the same time I am you. I am all that matters of you.
[The picture isn’t identified, but this is the only nude on a couch, most of the reclining nudes appear to recline on day beds or beds.
The image is from
Family of Saltimbanques by Pablo Picasso (1905) mentioned in De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period by J.D. Salinger.
[The narrator has obtained a job at a correspondence art school; in his application he has described Picasso as a family friend and here has just met the school’s proprietor, M. Yoshoto and hasn’t yet realized the veracity of his fabulizations are of no concern.]
For M. Yoshoto’s benefit, I recalled, with a showy amount of natural compassion for a fallen giant, how many times I had said to him, “M. Picasso, ou allez vous?” and how, in response to this all-penetrating question, the master had never failed to walk slowly, leadenly, across his studio to look at a small reproduction of his “Les Saltimbanques” and the glory, long forfeited, that had been his. The trouble with Picasso, I explained to M. Yoshoto as we got out of the bus, was that he never listened to anybody—even his closest friends.