Shown here in London’s National Gallery, Daniel Craig will return as Bond in the forthcoming film Skyfall this autumn. Courtesy of Sony/Eon/MGM.
LONDON - After fifty years of James Bond, it is remarkable to consider what an impact the iconic series has had on our culture. Walking through the Designing 007 show at the Barbican (closes 5 September, however a full retrospective of James Bond films will be showing at the MoMA in the month of October), it was great to see all the gadgets, props and costumes, divided by themes like ‘The Gold’, ‘The Titles’, ‘M’s Office’, ‘The Villains’ and so on. What I liked most, though, were the beautiful pencil set designs by Sir Ken Adam upon which so many of the iconic sets are faithfully based (watch a great interview with him discussing everything from the gold vault in Goldfinger (1964) to the rocket crater in You Only Live Twice (1967) below). They got me thinking about the broader representation of art in the Bond films, and about the way in which it defines the films’ characters and plots.
Sir Ken Adam’s sketch for Dr No's Underground Apt, Living Room, which is one of many sketches showing his exceptional designs that can be seen at the Barbican in London. © 1962 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.
Paintings are the mirror of a man. With his distinguished naval career, M’s penchant for marine paintings (until Judy Dench’s debut) is unsurprising and they adorn his study in its many guises; opposite his desk hangs Jan Wyck’s equestrian portrait of King William III at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 into which, to M’s (Bernard Lee’s) chagrin, Bond (Roger Moore) test-fires a poison-tipped dart during his briefing in Moonraker (1979).
Goya’s portrait of The Duke of Wellington appears on an easel in the underground lair of Dr No.© The National Gallery, London.© 1962 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.
Art gives M’s and Bond’s nemeses the gravitas and sophistication that makes them the compelling characters they are – many surround themselves with masterpieces of European art. In some instances the villains’ hubristic aspirations find expression in particular works: Max Zorin’s desk in A View to a Kill (1985) is flanked by a Jacques-Louis David portrait of Napoleon; while in Dr. No (1962), the eponymous megalomaniac’s trophy is Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (the painting had been stolen from the National Gallery just before filming began, and Ken Adam, with the NG’s permission, painted a copy for the film).
Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Regent by Pietro Annigoni, 1954–55, which is currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery, and is seen on the wall of Bond’s London office in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. © The Fishmongers’ Company.
Bond’s own tastes are more modest – his flat, seen in only two of the films, Dr. No and Live and Let Die (1973), is decorated with a few portraits of marines; his otherwise bare office by a lone print of Pietro Annigoni’s 1954 portrait of the Queen – currently on view in the NPG as part of The Queen: Art and Image – to which Bond (George Lazenby) raises his hipflask in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). In a wonderful sequence of art imitating art, Honey Ryder’s (Ursula Andress’) iconic emergence from the sea in Dr. No, conch in hand, is a direct quote from Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, which adorns Karl Stromberg’s underwater lair, Atlantis, in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).
Boticelli’s Birth of Venus, which resides in the Uffizi Gallery, also adorned the walls of Stromberg’s underwater lair Atlantis. © 1977 Danjaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.
Many of the film’s plots owe their genesis to – or are based around – art or people and places in the art world. Drax receives Bond in the salon of the Château de Guermantes outside Paris, surrounded by master paintings including Raphael’s School of Athens and numerous Guido Renis (the interiors of Drax’s Moonraker research facility, incidentally, are filmed on the top floor of Paris’s Centre Georges Pompidou); Zorin’s lair is a veritable repository of 19th-century art, being the Château de Chantilly, home of the Musée Condé. Auric Goldfinger may have been more enamored with gold than with art, but his character was inspired by the Hungarian-born architect and collector Ernö Goldfinger, whose brutalist buildings which include Trellick Tower in Westbourne Grove, Fleming despised, but whose collection of modern French and British paintings, drawings and sculpture can be viewed at his self-built house at 2 Willow Road.
The film with particular links to the art market and to Sotheby’s is Octopussy (1983), based on Fleming’s 1963 short story The Property of A Lady, commissioned for Sotheby’s annual review, The Ivory Hammer. At the heart of the film’s plot is a Fabergé egg which, while closely resembling the 1897 Coronation Egg commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II for his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna, was in fact a lavish prop wholly invented by production designer Peter Lamont. Bond (Roger Moore) attends the auction in the main saleroom, where he substitutes the ‘real’ egg for a decoy before raising the stakes by bidding on the object himself. A teaser for the forthcoming Bond film, Skyfall, shows Daniel Craig sitting on a bench in the National Gallery – watch this space.