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The Art League’s Favorite Art Movies on Netflix & YouTube

With movies like Tim’s Vermeer, the upcoming Born to Fly, and this month’s Big Eyes (a Tim Burton film about painter Margaret Keane), theaters this year have had plenty of films about art.

There are also lots of art movies, both documentary and dramatized, that you can watch online right now with Netflix streaming or for free on Youtube! (Also included: a few that you can stream on Hulu, with Amazon Prime, or that you’ll have to track down elsewhere.)

We asked around The Art League’s offices for everyone’s favorite streaming art movies, and these are the results!

Ranging from serious to lighthearted, documentary to fictional, and art-centric to art-adjacent, the 25 films are organized in this list by the year of their release, starting with the older films — mostly dramatized biopics of famous masters — and ending with the most recent films, which include more documentaries about lesser-known artists.

rembrandt-movieMoulin Rouge (1952) how-to-steal-a-million Rivers and Tides In the Realms of the Unreal Bomb It (2007) picasso-braque-moviesHerb and Dorothy art-of-the-steal Cave of Forgotten Dreams exit-through First Position gerhard-richter-painting Cutie and the Boxer poster
Rembrandt (1936)
YouTube, 84 minutes
The first of several Rembrandt movies on this list, the Criterion Collection called this movie a “moving, elegantly shot biopic about the Dutch painter …”

“ …Beginning when Rembrandt’s reputation was at its height, the film then tracks his quiet descent into loneliness and isolated self-expression, following the death of his wife to the unveiling of Night Watch to the ecclesiastical excommunication of his late-in-life lover and maid, Hendrickje Stoffels. Though black and white, Rembrandt is shot by cinematographer Georges Périnal with an attention to light that’s particularly Rembrandtesque.”

— pick by George

Moulin Rouge (1952)
YouTube, 119 minutes

Starring José Ferrer as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Zsa Zsa Gábor as the dancer Jane Avril, this film tells the story of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life and, in particular, how his artwork helped him cope with an unhappy personal life. It was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar and won for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design.

(Toulouse-Lautrec has a supporting role in the more recent movie titled Moulin Rouge!, but that film isn’t streaming anywhere at the moment.)

— pick by George

How to Steal a Million (1966)
Netflix, 123 minutes

A classic with Audrey Hepburn and Peter O’Toole, about an art collector and forger who needs to steal his forged sculpture back from a museum before it’s discovered.

— pick by Vida

F is for Fake (1974)
YouTube, 88 minutes

“If they hang long enough … they become real.” Orson Welles’ final movie was about the famous art forger Elmyr de Hory, who fooled many reputable art-world personalities with his fakes. It’s told as a sort of meta-documentary starring Welles himself.

— pick by George

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)
YouTube, 94 minutes

See the celebrated environmental artist at work on time-based pieces that, thanks to the film, live on. We first heard about this documentary over the summer, when Art Campers watched a clip of it while working on their own environmental sculptures.

— pick by Rose

In the Realms of the Unreal (2004)
YouTube, 80 minutes

This film profiles janitor, novelist, and outsider artist Henry Darger. Like other outsider artists, Darger had a strong personal vision and a prolific output that wasn’t known until after his death. He wrote thousands of pages of his fantasy story with hundreds of accompanying paintings, based on imagery he copied or photocopied from magazines and other printed materials.

— pick by George

Bomb It (2007)
YouTube, 93 minutes

“I was, after the fashion of humanity, in love with my name, and, as young educated people commonly do, I wrote it everywhere.” — Goethe

A graffiti documentary that follows artists across the world, and the people who work to eradicate it.

— pick by Whitney

Picasso and Braque Go to the Movies (2008)
Hulu, 60 minutes

This film started as an exhibit at Pace Gallery in New York in 2007. Martin Scorsese, Julian Schnabel, and others make the case for early cinema’s influence on the Cubist movement, in particular the two titular artists.

— pick by George

Herb and Dorothy (2008)
Hulu, 87 minutes

The documentary story of the famous art collector couple who have gathered a huge collection of well-known artists, despite their low-income jobs. (For another, less happy, art couple, check out Cutie and the Boxer below.)

— pick by Rose

Rembrandt’s J’Accuse (2008)
YouTube, 86 minutes

A documentary by Peter Greenaway, Rembrandt’s J’Accuse is a companion piece to the dramatic film Nightwatching with the same director and cast. Both are about the famous painting The Night Watch, with the documentary exploring theories about the painting, artistic illiteracy, and the sad state of critical thinking skills. Rembrandt is played by Martin Freeman, of Hobbit and Sherlock fame!

— pick by Suzanne

The Art of the Steal (2009)
Netflix, 101 minutes

This made a lot of our lists! It’s about the fight for the Barnes Foundation collection. From a user review on Netflix: “Like all good documentaries, The Art of the Steal is about much more than its central subject. It raises big questions about who owns culture, whether it should be public or private and whether or not it should be a for profit enterprise.”

— pick by Ariane, Rose, and Nancy

Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
YouTube, 90 minutes

Documentary filmmaker Werner Herzog got to take a small camera crew into the heavily protected Chauvet Cave in France, the site of the earliest representational cave paintings in the world. The crew was confined to a tiny catwalk to preserve the cave, but the film itself is an expansive look at human creativity.

— pick by George

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010)
YouTube, 86 minutes

Another documentary that made a lot of lists at The Art League. It’s a documentary by and about Banksy, with interviews with other famous graffiti artists including Shepard Fairey.

— pick by Joann, Ariane, and Erica

Waste Land (2010)
Netflix

A documentary about the largest landfill in the world (in Brazil), the trash-pickers who work there, and an artist who has made it a kind of muse with recycled art and other work.

— pick by George

First Position (2011)
Netflix, 94 minutes

A fantastic ballet documentary that all artists can relate to, whether or not you’re interested in dance. It follows young dancers preparing for the Youth America Grand Prix.

— pick by Erica

Gerhard Richter Painting (2011)
Netflix, 97 minutes

Exactly what the title says — there’s a lot of Gerhard Richter painting and not a lot of him talking, which makes for some very Zen sequences with only the sounds of brushes, squeegees, and the painter’s footsteps. A great chance to see a famous artist at work inside the studio, in a film that’s more about the artist’s process than his personality, in contrast to other documentaries.

— pick by Rose and Nancy

Michael Palin in Wyeth’s World (2013)
YouTube, 59 minutes

Michael Palin visits the places and people that were Andrew Wyeth’s famous subjects. This BBC documentary is the perfect follow-up if your imagination was sparked by the recent exhibit at the National Gallery of Art!

— pick by George

Cutie and the Boxer (2013)
Netflix

What happens when two artists get married? If you answered “it’s complicated,” you’re right. Ushio and Noriko Shinohara are Japanese artists in New York who have their relationship and their artwork explored in this recent documentary.

It was nominated for the Best Documentary category at last year’s Oscars.

— pick by George

Other favorites
not currently streaming:

  • Factory Girl (starring Sienna Miller as Edie Sedgwick in Andy Warhol’s Factory in the ’60s and ’70s)
  • Downtown 81 (a day in the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat; available to rent on YouTube for $2)
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child (a documentary, not to be confused with the biopic Basquiat)
  • Everlasting Moments (a woman’s life changes when she wins a camera; available for Amazon Prime members here)
  • My Architect: A Son’s Journey (by director Nathaniel Kahn about his famous father, Louis Kahn)
  • For No Good Reason (a documentary about illustrator Ralph Steadman)
  • My Kid Could Paint That (the mystery-documentary about a four-year-old’s famous paintings)

Wait, did you make it this far without finding something to watch? Scroll back up!

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