Saturday, July 19, 2014

Boy with Apple and a Pseudo-Schiele in The Grand Budapest Hotel

by Drew Martin
Wes Anderson’s films are preciously stylized so even if they have nothing to do with art, they are still very artsy.

In his most recent production The Grand Budapest Hotel starring my doppelganger Ralph Fiennes, a stolen painting is central.

This is a familiar fiction: the hotel is set in the mountains of the “Republic of Zubrowka,” which is a quasi-Austro-Hungarian Empire state. Most of the film locations are actually around Görlitz, Germany, which borders on Poland and is a nudge above the Czech Republic. Żubrówka is actually the name of a popular Polish Bison Grass Vodka. A more obvious made-up place for a gas station scene is Fuelitz.

Likewise, a you-cannot-put-your-finger-on-it (because it is part of the tale) Mannerist painting titled Boy with Apple is bequeathed by a Madame D to Fiennes, who plays meticulous old-world concierge. This inheritance is questioned so Fiennes and his side-kick lobby boy, Zero, steal the masterpiece. In its place above a mantel, Zero hangs what seems to be an Egon Schiele drawing, but that too is made up.

Boy with Apple was created for the film by Michael Taylor, an English painter who actually has four of his paintings in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

Film director Wes Anderson approached me in 2012 to paint a fictional Renaissance portrait to be titled 'Boy with Apple' for his next film The Grand Budapest Hotel. The plot pivots around the theft and recovery of a priceless portrait by Renaissance master Johannes Van Hoytl. Intrigued by the script and surprised to hear that he intended to commission a real portrait, I decided to come onboard. For inspiration Wes bombarded me with a bewildering selection of images by Bronzino, 17th Century Dutch painters, Durers, all kinds of stuff, even some Tudor portraits. I found this terribly confusing at first until I realized that each image contained some required element that had to be worked into the painting. He clearly knew exactly what he wanted; it was just that nothing quite like it yet existed. It was an irresistible challenge.

Ed Munro, a stage school student, was cast as the sitter. Costumes were chosen and props hired (I provided the apple) and we started what was to be many weeks of work in a suitably atmospheric Jacobean house near my Dorset home. Wes had very bravely left me alone to work on the painting for a couple of months, but as the start of filming approached we began the final work on it together. Collaborating on a picture was new territory to me, but his extraordinary attention to detail (“ the little bit of paper on the wall?…..yes, yes we must have the little bit of paper!”), good humoured patience and faith in his script somehow made it all come out right.

The pseudo-Schiele was painted by Rich Pellegrino, a Boston-based RISD graduate.

Wes Anderson commissioned me to create a painting for his…movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. One thing that was clear about this piece was that it had to have a clear and direct message of what it was: “Two Lesbians Masturbating”. Another was that it was to look like an Egon Schiele. Now Schiele is one of my favorite artists, and ironically I had recently given a Schiele inspired assignment to one of my painting classes. As my Gramma says: “This is right up my alley.”

I poured over my Schiele books and examined how he achieved texture and line. As a fan of Schiele this was a great deal of fun. After much experimentation and a filled sketchbook I created seven final drawings and paintings. 

When Adrien Brody, who plays the son of the recently deceased Madame D, sees the pseudo-Schiele in place of the priceless Boy with Apple, he screams "What's the meaning of this shit?"

Michael Taylor quote source

Rich Pellegrino quote source