Monday, December 3, 2012

The Picture of Dorian Grey- It's the movie and an appropriate blog title!

So, one of the creepiest portraits in movies… ever is about well… one of the creepiest painting stories ever. Yes, it’s the Picture of Dorian Gray! There have been multiple films made after this eerily good Oscar Wilde novel, but I’m going to choose what is usually considered the most famous, and is my personal favorite- the 1945 film starring George Sanders and my favorite actress ever, Angela Lansbury.

So, once again, this picture is a major plot point, which means it’s very important in the course of the movie. Actually, the entire movie is based around this painting, which is fairly unique and pretty awesome for my blog.

If you’ve never seen an adaptation or read the novel (which is also excellent), it’s about a misguided young man (in this movie, played by Sanders), who in a crazy way, sells his soul to this painting. He, externally never ages from his “attractive” young self, but his portrait ages instead. And there’s another thing. Eventually Dorian becomes all immoral and criminal, but his face, which the Victorians I assume believe, would show the results of his crime, doesn’t. Instead, his portrait just becomes more gruesome to represent the defilement of his soul. It’s very profound.

So thematically, this portrait is as pure as Dorian- so- it’s not. It’s a mutt of themes. But this is my final judgment. The portrait represented the repressed evil in Dorian’s character which fails to show in his actual personage. However, the portrait, as a symbol of his evil, also acts as almost a ghost, an overbearing presence, haunting Dorian, who appears to the world to be perfect. It shows Dorian who he actually is, despite what his mirror reflects, and its monstrosity haunts him to the final, chilling climax of the story.

So there are actually two portraits used in the movie, but which should be mentioned in their own right. The first is the “original portrait,” the portrait of the young ideal Dorian, which the titular character admires so much that he basically gives it his soul. This painting was done by a Hollywood society painter, by the name of Henrique Medina de Barros. If the name didn’t give it away, he is of Iberian descent (Portuguese) as a matter of fact. The portrait is done in a very realistic style and can be considered the most famous “Before” picture in the movies. But this portrait is relatively minor in comparison to the “After” picture which is famous cinematically and artistically.

As you can tell, it’s a little gruesome (what can I say- Dorian certainly went down the path of evil) and a lot different from the first, even genre wise. It’s a rotted, old body, with chains (does this remind you of a Christmas Carol) surrounded by little, creepy ghosts. It’s an intentionally revolting picture- I, for one, don’t even like looking at it. It is described as portraying "moral leprosy" in the film- very apt, don't you think? But continue staring into ancient Dorian’s ghastly face. But if you compare the two- you'll notice a few striking similarities and differences. Besides, the gore and the chains, this painting appears to be the rotted original. The table and cat statue are the same, the suit is the same. Even the throne-like chair is the background is the same. Despite the style differences, many things are similar, scene-wise.

Interestingly enough, the initial shots of the painting are the only color shots in the film. So, there is a color view of the before shot, and two color views of the after shot. The fact that such effort went in to these shots shows the importance of the painting, which is not up for debate. Without the picture, you can have no Dorian. 

This was done by another artist with a fairly amusing name- Ivan Le Lorraine Albright. He was a magic realist, which is a genre which is fairly unique of its own right. Most of his work basically looks like this portrait, and I would say the Dorian portrait is definitely his most famous work. Albright actually kept the painting after filming, and it now is actually in the Art Institute of Chicago, which is a fairly prestigious gallery.

So, this portrait is one of those rare movie props, if you will, that is considered high art. Not personally one of my favorites, but God knows I don’t belong in the base of the art critics.


  1. Yes, I get the exact same feeling about the "after" portrait—I never liked to and absolutely still don't like to look at it. So always I avoid looking at it as completely as possible. Sometimes my eyes inadvertently fall upon it and I always wish they hadn't. Once early on I looked at it pretty thoroughly and I regretted it. I suppose that's a strong indication of its powerful hideous effect. I suppose it takes its own place as the "Most Hideous Painting Ever Painted". I feel sorry for and I do worry about the poor painter that had to live his life during its entire creation within the proximity of this sickening thing. It had to have hurt him as he was so involved with it. I think maybe he did too good of a job. I hate the thing.

    1. Check this out: you might appreciate it:

  2. Well I just surfaced after an engrossing all-nighter spent weaving in and out of websites woven from the gossamer thread of your above-mentioned url. From John Coulthart to the Albright twins (I'm so glad they had each other to halve the emotional black-hole load of creating that appalling 'after' painting!) to 1940's Ireland visiting the home of Hurd Hatfield to a rather obscure website honoring the fabulous artist Henrique Medina ( to biographies of Oscar Wilde (and the discovery of another wonderful site and all his other works (of which I of course already was familiar in a sort of cursory, shallow way but now know so much more about, and soon, more still!) along with his fascinating mother Lady Jane "Speranza" Wilde to virtual side-trips around Paris (including a googlemap walk through the Père Lachaise Cemetery) to discovering history behind the Haymarket Affair and so much more... LOved it. I now have fodder to fuel a dozen more forays into the Multiverses of the Most High Internet. You're a wonder! How I ever got along without you is a Wonder! Art of Film Rules!!
    Please have a very nice day!
    'Wildely' fangirling— pookie

  3. Take a photo and put it into photoshop. Bring up the level of contrast and saturation to extremes. It approximates the style. In the movie, it looks like acrylic on plywood. If I had an original high resolution color picture of this, it would be very apropos, if not surrealistic.
    I am sure we have a few nihilistic naive narcissists similar to Oscar Wilde today who might be flattered by the comparison.

  4. Enjoy your site very much. Would make a gentle correction, however. In the third paragraph, above, it says, "'s about a misguided young man (in this movie played by Sanders), who in a crazy way, sells his soul to this painting." The role of Dorian Grey was played by Hurd Hatfield (1917-1998). He remained a lifelong friend of Angela Lansbury.


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