The “Boy with Apple” painting from Wes Anderson’s latest candy-coated dream The Grand Budapest Hotel is a character in of itself. Is this a centuries old painting, or what it commissioned for the movie?
In the film the painting is supposed to be an invaluable Renaissance masterpiece by artist Johannes Van Hoytl the Younger. In reality it was a bespoke request by Wes Anderson of contemporary British painter Michael Taylor. “Intrigued by the script and surprised to hear that he intended to commission a real portrait, I decided to come onboard,” Taylor writes of his 2012 experience on his website. “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.”
Crazily enough Taylor was not familiar at all with Wes Anderson’s films, which he sees as a bit of an advantage. I have to agree because I imagine it would be hard for a diehard Wes Anderson fan to not put a little interpretation of Wes Anderson’s signature style into the painting instead of focusing on the historical style and Anderson’s specific directions.
Taylor and Ed Munro, the young man hired to model for the painting, gave an interview about the tedious yet exhilerating process with The Week. Of course there was massive drama around selecting the right costume, but the biggest challenge for Munro was keeping his hands in such a difficult pose for hours on end. For months Taylor toiled on the painting alone, but as scheduled shooting neared for The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson worked very closely with Taylor, making special requests so that it would correctly fit his vision.
The task at hand was one of the most daunting imaginable. “Being asked to invent something priceless can be a bit of a pressure,” Taylor noted. A conundrum that vexes many movies and fiction novels is that often there are works of art, songs, and poems involved in the plots that the stories require to be extraordinarily good. The writing of the story itself can be immaculate, but the task of creating a separate masterpiece to complement the story often falls short. The idea of the excellence of the art within the art often has to be enough. Calling in outside help can resolve some of the awkwardness, and, although I am no art critic or scholar, I think Michael Taylor’s “Boy With Apple” holds up to the task. I would not have been surprised if “Boy With Apple” had turned out to be a genuine Renaissance painting.
When the trailer came out, the painting’s model Munro was a bit upset to see that the painting was featured so prominently in the film because he felt like the image didn’t look like him. He’s come to think, however, that it looks more like him has he ages. His problem may also be a bit of the embarrassment we feel when we see renditions of ourselves. Seeing photos of ourselves seem less startling, especially in the age of an endless supply of instantly published selfies, but a painting or drawing can seem a bit odd because it’s filtered entirely through another person’s perception; in this case both Taylor’s and Anderson’s perceptions. “I think we ended up with something that had a bit of me, and a bit of [Anderson] in it. It kind of looks familiar — but isn’t quite like anything else either,” Michael said about the finished product. Neither Taylor nor Munro know where the original “Boy with Apple” currently is, but it’s probably being kept safe seeing that it’s close to living up to the challenge of being priceless. There are no doubt many art collectors who wouldn’t mind paying a great deal for this one-off bit of Hollywood wizardry.