Watch Iconic Artists at Work: Rare Videos of Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Renoir, Monet, Pollock & More

Claude Mon­et, 1915:

We’ve all seen their works in fixed form, enshrined in muse­ums and print­ed in books. But there’s some­thing spe­cial about watch­ing a great artist at work. Over the years, we’ve post­ed film clips of some of the great­est artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry caught in the act of cre­ation. Today we’ve gath­ered togeth­er eight of our all-time favorites.

Above is the only known film footage of the French Impres­sion­ist Claude Mon­et, made when he was 74 years old, paint­ing along­side a lily pond in his gar­den at Giverny. The footage was shot in the sum­mer of 1915 by the French actor and drama­tist Sacha Gui­t­ry for his patri­ot­ic World War I‑era film, Ceux de Chez Nous, or “Those of Our Land.” For more infor­ma­tion, see our pre­vi­ous post, “Rare Film: Claude Mon­et at Work in His Famous Gar­den at Giverny, 1915.”

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1915:

You may nev­er look at a paint­ing by the French Impres­sion­ist Pierre-Auguste Renoir in quite the same way after see­ing the footage above, which is also from Sacha Gui­t­ry’s Ceux de Chez Nous. Renoir suf­fered from severe rheuma­toid arthri­tis dur­ing the last decades of his life. By the time this film was made in June of 1915, the 74-year-old Renoir was phys­i­cal­ly deformed and in con­stant pain. The painter’s 14-year-old son Claude is shown plac­ing the brush in his father’s per­ma­nent­ly clenched hand. To learn more about the footage and about Renoir’s ter­ri­ble strug­gle with arthri­tis, be sure to read our post, “Aston­ish­ing Film of Arthrit­ic Impres­sion­ist Painter, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1915).”

Auguste Rodin, 1915:

The footage above, again by Sacha Gui­t­ry, shows the French sculp­tor Auguste Rodin in sev­er­al loca­tions, includ­ing his stu­dio at the dilap­i­dat­ed Hôtel Biron in Paris, which lat­er became the Musée Rodin. The film was made in late 1915, when Rodin was 74 years old. For more on Rodin and the Hôtel Biron, please see: “Rare Film of Sculp­tor Auguste Rodin work­ing at his Stu­dio in Paris (1915).”

Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky, 1926:

In 1926, film­mak­er Hans Cürlis took the rare footage above of the Russ­ian abstract painter Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky apply­ing paint to a blank can­vas at the Galerie Neu­mann-Nieren­dorf in Berlin. Kandin­sky was about 49 years old at the time, and teach­ing at the Bauhaus. To learn more about Kandin­sky and to watch a video of actress Helen Mir­ren dis­cussing his work at the Muse­um of Mod­ern Art in New York, see our post, “The Inner Object: See­ing Kandin­sky.”

Hen­ri Matisse, 1946:

The French artist Hen­ri Matisse is shown above when he was 76 years old, mak­ing a char­coal sketch of his grand­son, Ger­ard, at his home and stu­dio in Nice. The clip is from a 26-minute film made by François Cam­paux for the French Depart­ment of Cul­tur­al Rela­tions. To read a trans­la­tion of Matis­se’s spo­ken words and to watch a clip of the artist work­ing on one of his dis­tinc­tive paper cut-outs, go to “Vin­tage Film: Watch Hen­ri Matisse Sketch and Make His Famous Cut-Outs (1946).”

Pablo Picas­so, 1950:

In the famous footage above, Span­ish artist Pablo Picas­so paints on glass at his stu­dio in the vil­lage of Val­lau­ris, on the French Riv­iera. It’s from the 1950 film Vis­ite à Picas­so (A Vis­it with Picas­so) by Bel­gian film­mak­er Paul Hae­saerts. Picas­so was about 68 years old at the time. You can find the full 19-minute film here.

Jack­son Pol­lock, 1951:

In the short film above, called Jack­son Pol­lock 51, the Amer­i­can abstract painter talks about his work and cre­ates one of his dis­tinc­tive drip paint­ings before our eyes. The film was made by Hans Namuth when Pol­lock was 39 years old. To learn about Pol­lock and his fate­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion with Namuth, see “Jack­son Pol­lock: Lights, Cam­era, Paint! (1951).”

Alber­to Gia­comet­ti, 1965:

The Swiss artist Alber­to Gia­comet­ti is most famous for his thin, elon­gat­ed sculp­tures of the human form. But in the clip above from the 1966 film Alber­to Gia­comet­ti by the Swiss pho­tog­ra­ph­er Ernst Schei­deg­ger, Gia­comet­ti is shown work­ing in anoth­er medi­um as he paints the foun­da­tion­al lines of a por­trait at his stu­dio in Paris. The footage was appar­ent­ly shot in 1965, when Gia­comet­ti was about 64 years old and had less than a year to live. To learn about Gia­comet­ti’s approach to draw­ing and to read a trans­la­tion of the Ger­man nar­ra­tion in this clip, be sure to see our post, “Watch as Alber­to Gia­comet­ti Paints and Pur­sues the Elu­sive ‘Appari­tion,’ (1965).”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

1922 Pho­to: Claude Mon­et Stands on the Japan­ese Foot­bridge He Paint­ed Through the Years

Helen Mir­ren Tells Us Why Wass­i­ly Kandin­sky Is Her Favorite Artist (And What Act­ing & Mod­ern Art Have in Com­mon)

When Hen­ri Matisse Was 83 Years Old, He Couldn’t Go to His Favorite Swim­ming Pool, So He Cre­at­ed a Swim­ming Pool as a Work of Art

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  • chris jahn says:

    love it. wow! these would be so impor­tant to young artists try­ing to express them­selves and oth­ers try­ing to under­stand mod­ern art and what was going through the artists mind. fas­ci­nat­ing how they build a paint­ing. i hope there is more.

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