Enhance your knowledge of artists and art history with these art documentaries and movies you can stream today. I have compiled a list of art documentaries and films I enjoyed, and that you can stream on Amazon.com. Some of these do not show up in a typical keyword search on Amazon.com, so I thought it would be helpful to compile a list. It is not all encompassing as there are still many I have yet to discover. Therefore, I am adding a “part 1” suffix to the title. I have provided the title, date it was released, quoted the summary description from Amazon.com, and added brief comments on the some of them. I have also stated whether it is free to stream with Amazon’s Prime Video, or for purchase.
Dan Cytron: One Artist’s POV – Amazon Purchase 2011 – An intimate and genuine art documentary all collectors and artists should watch. From Amazon – “Why do some paintings sell for millions of dollars? Following a lifetime dedicated to art, DAN CYTRON, a talented Los Angeles artist (abstract painter) and Sam Francis’ assistant and paint maker, candidly gives his point of view on the art business, critics, gallery owners, and collectors. This documentary questions commercialization and celebrity and examines value, creativity, and survival.”
Brice Marden – Circ. 1970’s – Amazon Purchase – An honest and personal art documentary of an artist in his prime – From Amazon – “After a few seconds of footage from 1968 of the artist working, this film moves into 1976, providing an intimate look at the enigmatic abstract painter, Brice Marden. Shot in 16mm shortly after Marden’s 1975 exhibition at the Guggenheim, it reveals, through interviews with Marden and numerous shots of his preparations and working process, the depth of intellectual creativity behind his works.”
Robert Williams Mr Bitchin’ – Free with Amazon Prime – 2013 – An art documentary on an incredibly talented artist who broke the fine-art mold. From Amazon – “Robert Williams Mr Bitchin’ Explores the remarkable art and life of painter extraordinaire Robert Williams an American underground legend, examining the territory between pop culture and fine art, and measuring the multiple meanings of “success” – financial, artistic, popular and critical.”
Raven Awakens – Free With Amazon Prime – 2017 – An art documentary of a passionate man and his difficult medium. From Amazon – “Raven Awakens follows Sonoma bronze sculptor, Jim Callahan, through the whole process of creating a large bronze sculpture from inspiration to final result. Along the way we get an expanded look at what makes up an artistic life.”
Fritz – 2015 – Free With Prime – Art documentary of a somewhat eccentric man and his art. From Amazon – “Two young filmmakers discover a 70-year-old, hard-of-hearing artist named Fritz and they turn his world upside down. Fritz faces his past and rediscovers happiness as the group stumbles upon just how to “make it,” in the art world.”
Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict – 2015 – Purchase on Prime – From Amazon – “A collector or art and artists, Peggy Guggenheim fought through personal tragedy to build one of the world’s most important collections of modern art, now enshrined in her famous Venetian palazzo. The film is a compendium of famous 20th-century painting and sculpture mixed with the wild and iconoclastic life of one of the most powerful women in the history of the art world.”
The American Artist – The Life & Times of George Caleb Bingham – Free With Amazon Prime – 2016 – From Amazon – “The American Artist” is a biographical docu-drama about George Caleb Bingham. He was a successful artist, politician, and family man… but it all fell apart. His home, family, career, and life’s work were all but lost as the American Civil War split his world in two. A century after his death, George Caleb Bingham’s work was not only rediscovered, it is celebrated as a National Treasure.”
The painting life of Rembrandt van Rijn – Free With Amazon Prime – 2008 – “A unique documentary of the life and the works of Rembrandt van Rijn. We are traveling with Van Rijn in a geographical reconstruction of his life. It shows beautiful pictures of which Van Rijn has drawn his inspiration for his works. A lof the buildings still exist. Through modern digital techniques, the current image changes into the painting that was made by Van Rijn for over 400 years ago.”
Renaissance Unchained – Free With Amazon Prime – 2015 Some hate him; I love watching his art documentaries. This series by Waldemar Januszczak makes learning about art fun. From Amazon – “Famed British art critic and TV presenter Waldemar Januszczak challenges the traditional notion that the Renaissance had fixed origins in Italy. He explores the ingenuity in both technique and ideas throughout Europe in great artists such as Van Eyck, Memling, Van der Weyden, Cranach, Riemenschneider and Durer. This series shines as it delves into the intersection of art and history and politics.”
The Impressionists – Free With Amazon Prime – 2015 – Another excellent art documentary by Waldemar Januszczak – It’s more entertaining but equally educational to Tim Marlows 1999 with a similar title. From Amazon – “Famed British art critic Waldemar Januszczak explores the revolutionary achievements of The Impressionists. Journey from the West Indies, to Paris, to the suburbs of South London, where artists of the 19th century drew their inspiration. Waldemar describes, as only he can, the technical influences of the age that helped spark the artistic innovations and points of view of Impressionist painting.”
Exhibition on Screen: History’s Greatest Artists – Free With Amazon Prime – 2013-16 A more recent production covering some of the most famous artists. From Amazon – “Every year more people visit art galleries than football stadiums. Rare collections result in queues longer than working days and museums keep their doors open into the wee, small hours to accommodate throngs of visitors. This monumental series takes you into the world’s biggest art exhibitions and on location to enjoy, marvel and delight at the stories and works of history’s greatest artists.”
Understanding Art: Hidden Lives of Works of Art – Amazon Purchase – 2011 From Amazon – “This exceptional series documents the Louvre’s study days, in which works by five major artists–Rembrandt, Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Watteau, and Poussin–were collected together, removed from their frames, and set on easels, replicating the feel of an artist’s studio. Curators, historians, restorers, and scientists from around the world came to examine and discuss them in total freedom.”
Brushstrokes: Every Picture Tells a Story – Free With Amazon Prime – 2013 – From Amazon – “Acclaimed British art critic and television presenter Waldemar Januszczak investigates the stories behind four internationally famous works of art from Gaugin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Dobson. Each episode focuses on one painting. Waldemar takes us deep into the world of the artist who created it, including popular influences, events in the artist’s life, and any hidden meanings within the works.”
William Dobson: The Lost Genius of Baroque – Free With Amazon Prime – 2012 – From Amazon – “Hosted by Waldemar Januszczak this film investigates the few known facts about William Dobson and seeks out the personal stories he left behind as it follows him through his tragically short career. Among the Dobson fans interviewed in the film is Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana, who agrees wholeheartedly that William Dobson was the first great British painter.”
Colored Frames – 2007 – Free with Amazon Prime – I’m a huge fan of finding undiscovered 20th-century artists. This film brings many to light. From Amazon.com “A look back at the last fifty years in African American art, Colored Frames is an unflinching exploration of influences, inspirations and experiences of black artists. Beginning at the height of the Civil Rights Era and leading up to the present, it is a naked and truthful look at often ignored artists and their progenies.”
The Rape of Europa – 2007 – Free with Amazon Prime – From Amazon.com “The Rape of Europa tells the epic story of the systematic theft, deliberate destruction and miraculous survival of Europe’s art treasures during the Third Reich and WW II.”
Understanding Art: Baroque & Rococo – Acorn TV Subscription – 2014 – From Amazon – “In Baroque! From St. Peter’s to St. Paul’s, Januszczak follows the trajectory of baroque from its beginnings as a Vatican-sanctioned religious art style to its ascendance as the first global art movement. In Rococo before Bedtime, he pulls back the gilded façade of rococo to reveal the deep imprint it left on politics, culture, religion, and even America’s Declaration of Independence.”
How to Look at a Painting – Acorn TV Subscription – 2011 – Twelve, 24-minute, episodes with the casual Justin Paton. From Amazon – “Justin Paton is on a mission: to show the rest of us why looking at a painting is worthwhile and to help us figure out how to do it. In this thought-provoking series, Paton demystifies art and answers the questions we might be too embarrassed to ask. Along the way, the New Zealand author, curator, and art reviewer takes us on a dazzling journey across the painted world.”
Manet and the Birth of Impressionism – Free With Amazon Prime – 2009 – From Amazon – “Manet is often cited as the father of Impressionism, and yet he stubbornly refused to show with them and was careful to maintain an aesthetic distance from Monet, Renoir and others. He looked down on them, preferring his own departure from the traditional art forms. British host Waldemar Januszczak tells the story of a complex and difficult man who started a revolution that continues to today.”
The Hudson River School: Artistic Pioneers – 2016 – Free with Amazon Prime – From Amazon – “In the vicinity of New York’s Hudson River Valley, the Adirondack Mountains, Catskill Mountains, and the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a group of American painters led by British born artist Thomas Cole forged an artistic vision of the American wilderness.”
Understanding Art: Impressionism – Amazon Purchase – 2012 – Once again Waldemar takes you on a fun educational journey. From Amazon – “In this four-part documentary, art critic Waldemar Januszczak reveals that in their time, the impressionists were artistic rebels. As Januszczak visits the locations that inspired them, he sheds light on a group that forever expanded the boundaries of art”
Masterworks – 1988-89 – Free With Amazon Prime – Twenty Two seasons of bite-sized sized art documentaries. I love downloading these and watching them during a flight. From Amazon – “Masterworks from the Great Museums of the World is one of the most successful series about art. The original, with improved image quality, takes us on a fascinating journey through the history of art. Comprehensively illustrated and compellingly presented, the 10min short art surveys provide a deeper insight into the masterpieces of painting.”
Art21: Art in the Twenty-First Century – Amazon Purchase – Living Artists – Nine seasons and counting! A plethora of art documentaries featuring many contemporary artists. Each episode usually features three or four artists segments. Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video by PBS.
From Amazon – “Art21 produces features focusing exclusively on contemporary visual art and artists throughout the world, including the Peabody Award-winning biennial series “Art in the Twenty-First Century.” Intimate footage allows the viewer to observe the artists at work and watch their process as they transform inspiration into art.”
Art of the Western World Season 1 – Amazon Purchase – 1989 – Although it’s dated, your mind quickly adjusts to the pan and scan format and 80’s sound quality, as you get drawn into excellent summaries of many great works and movements. From Amazon – “Beginning in ancient Greece and Rome, historian Michael Wood leads this eye-opening tour through 2,500 years of Western art. Four years in the making and filmed at over 140 locations in 10 countries, this nine-part documentary travels the globe.”
Masters of Modern Sculpture Part I, II and III – Amazon Purchase – You can stream parts I and III on Amazon video (via purchase) and part II on Vimeo. These documentaries feature minimal narration but a plethora of important sculptures.
Part I features; Rodin, Degas, Rosso, Bourdelle, Maillol, Lehmbruck, Matisse, Picasso, Lipchitz, Laurens, Epstein, Boccioni, Duchamp-Villon, Gonzales, Brancusi.
Part II features; Tatlin, Gabo, Pevsner, Duchamp; Dada artists, Man Ray, Miro, Arp, Ernst, Calder, Giacometti, Moore, Hepworth, Richier, Cesar, Uecker, Mack, Beuys, Arman, Yves Klein, Spoerri, Tinguely, Caro, Gilbert & George.
Part II features; David Smith, Nevelson, David Hare, Lassaw, Roszak, Ferber, Bourgeois, Chamberlain, Di Suvero, Noguchi, Rickey, Barnett Newman, Tony Smith, Segal, Judd, Oldenburg, Morris, Serra, Andre, Kienholz, Christo, Heizer, Robert Smithson
Great Artists with Tim Marlow – Free With Amazon Prime – 2001 From Amazon – “Tim Marlow takes a fresh look at the most important artworks of some of the greatest artists in history. Shot on location in over 50 galleries, museums, churches and palaces throughout Europe and the United States, this series is a comprehensive survey of the history of Western art.”
The Impressionists with Tim Marlow – Free With Amazon Prime – 1999 – From Amazon – “The Impressionists and their circle have become the international superstars of Western painting. But whilst their popularity is greater than ever, it is easy to forget the revolutionary nature of the Impressionists’ art. In this series, Tim Marlow takes us on a journey through the great art movement of the late nineteenth-century and explores some of the most beautiful paintings ever created.”
Dali’s Greatest Secret – Free With Amazon Prime – 2017 – From Amazon – “As the great artist Salvador Dali aged, he found himself trapped between the atheistic beliefs of his father and the Catholic faith of his late mother. All changed when he got hired to paint The Vision of Hell, as seen by one child seer in Portugal. NYT Bestseller Paul Perry investigates what lies behind Dali’s greatest secret that was hidden for over 30 years.”
William Dobson: The Lost Genius of Baroque – 2012 – Free with Amazon Prime – From Amazon.com “Hosted by Waldemar Januszczak this film investigates the few known facts about William Dobson and seeks out the personal stories he left behind as it follows him through his tragically short career. Among the Dobson fans interviewed in the film is Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana, who agrees wholeheartedly that William Dobson was the first great British painter.”
How the Devil Got His Horns – 2012 – Free with Amazon Prime – A fun story that reveals art portraying the devil as we know it today. From Amazon.com “Where did we get the popular image of Satan, with his goat horns and fiery red skin? In this captivating historical documentary, art historian Alastair Sooke investigates the Devil’s remarkable transformation – from fallen angel to terrifying demon – in medieval art”
Gauguin: The Full Story – Free With Amazon Prime – 2003 – From Amazon – “Gauguin is best known for his gorgeous paintings of Tahiti in which beautiful native girls disport themselves enticingly on perfect South Pacific beaches. But have these celebrated portrayals of an earthly paradise been misunderstood? And has the fame of Gauguin’s Tahiti pictures blinded us to the bigger truth about his achievements?”
The Caravaggio Affair – Free With Amazon Prime – 2015 – An entertaining and unique art documentary on a very talented, yet lesser known artist from history. From Amazon – “By the time Caravaggio died he had changed the face of the art world forever. But the paintings that now fetch millions and adorn the walls of the most prestigious galleries were painted by a murderer with a bounty on his head. In this captivating doc, archaeologists work tirelessly to track down Caravaggio’s long-lost remains, and finally establish the cause of the troubled young genius’ demise.”
Rubens: An Extra Large Story – Free With Amazon Prime – 2015 – From Amazon – “These days, nobody takes Rubens seriously. His vast and grandiose canvases, stuffed with wobbly mounds of female flesh, have little appeal for the modern gym-subscriber. Everything is too big: the epic dramas, the fantastical celestial scenery, the immense canvases. In the eyes of British host Waldemar Januszczak, Rubens has been tragically reduced by modern tastes and completely misunderstood.”
Frida – Amazon Purchase – 2005 – Salma Hayek, who from my understanding is a huge fan of Frida and art history, puts on a great performance. From Amazon – “Nominated for 6 Academy Awards including Salma Hayek for Best Actress, Frida is a triumphant motion picture about an exceptional woman who lived an unforgettable life. A product of humble beginnings, Frida Kahlo(Hayek) earns fame as a talented artist with a unique vision. And from her enduring relationship with her mentor and husband, Diego Rivera(Alfred Molina).”
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Silent) – Amazon Purchase – 1920 Shockingly creative set design for all-time. From Amazon – “One brilliant movie jolted the postwar masses and catapulted the movement known as German Expressionism into film history. That movie was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a plunge into the mind of insanity that severs all ties with the rational world.”
James McNeill Whistler and the Case for Beauty – Amazon Purchase – 2014 – From PBS – Best known for the groundbreaking portrait of his mother, James McNeill Whistler was the original art star. But beneath the high gloss, the struggle of this genius to find his own voice resulted in a breakaway style that moved painting towards abstraction and would revolutionize the art world in his time-and beyond.
Gerhard Richter Painting (English Subtitled) – Amazon Purchase or Rental – 2012– From Amazon – Legendary German painter Gerhard Richter granted filmmaker Corinna Belz access to his studio in the spring and summer of 2009, where he was working on a series of large abstract paintings. In quiet, highly concentrated images, this documentary provides a fly-on-the-wall perspective of Richter’s extremely personal, tension-filled process of artistic creation.