A still from Wes Anderson's latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
NEW YORK - Wes Anderson’s latest film The Grand Budapest Hotel (Fox Searchlight) is set in Nebelsbad, a spa town in the country of Zubrowka in the 1930s – all fictional. The story of the hotel’s charismatic and eccentric concierge Gustav H and Zero, his lobby boy, pivots around the theft and recovery of an Old Master portrait by the fictitious Johannes Van Hoytl that was bequeathed to Gustav by his lover Madame D. To create Boy with Apple, the filmmaker approached London-based realist painter Michael Taylor. The commission was “an irresistible challenge,” says Taylor. Anderson, known for his exacting aesthetic vision, sent him images of works by Bronzino, Holbein and by 17th century Dutch painters, among other sources. “Wes clearly knew exactly what he wanted, it was just that nothing quite like it yet existed,” says Taylor.
The portrait is the most visible of the film’s myriad references to art, decoration, and architecture, which keen eyed viewers will delight in noticing. Wes Anderson talked with Sotheby's about his aesthetic inspirations.
Is the fictional Johannes van Hoytl and the painting Boy with Apple inspired by or meant to suggest any real artist or painting?
Johannes van Hoytl was probably meant to be a mixture of Hans Holbein the Younger and Lucas Cranach the Elder, but Boy with Apple came out looking a little more like an Italian Renaissance painting, I suppose. We found a wonderful English portrait painter named Michael Taylor who started from scratch and drew on all his powers.
A still from The Grand Budapest Hotel showing Boy with Apple. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
Aside from Boy with Apple, what other art references found their way into the world of The Grand Budapest Hotel?
When Boy with Apple is stolen, it’s replaced with an Egon Schiele-like painting of two lesbians. That piece, while in the style of Schiele, was an original work created for us by Rich Pellegrino, an American artist. Schloss Lutz, the home of Madame D, is full of Gustav Klimt paintings (actual reproductions painted by a team of artisans in Berlin). And Madame D’s costumes, such as a gold velvet dress and red fur-trimmed cape designed by Milena Canonero, were decorated with hand-painted Klimt-like geometric patterns.
In the hotel lobby were reproductions of several murals by the 19th-century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, and the centerpiece of the dining room was our invention of a Friedrich-like scene displaying the fictional spa town of Nebelsbad, where the hotel is located.
Madame D played by Tilda Swinton. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight.
What about the architecture?
Most of the grand hotels of Europe were built in the late 1800s or early 1900s. During our travels to find a location to serve as the Grand Budapest lobby we found an abandoned department store in eastern Germany. It was completed in 1912 and was a great example of Jugendstil architecture. That aesthetic and the closely related art of the Viennese Secessionists influenced the look of the lobby and of Schloss Lutz. And of course a scene is set in an art museum. The Zwinger Museum in Dresden – which, fittingly, holds a large collection of Friedrichs – served as the location for the museum exteriors and some of the interiors for the scene.