Wes Anderson’s New Art History-Inspired Film Stars Adrien Brody as a Ruthless Art Dealer

Brody's character was based on legendary British dealer Joseph Duveen.

Adrien Brody (center) with Tilda Swinton, Lois Smith, Henry Winkler, Bob Balaban, and others. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Cinephiles were finally treated to an inside peek at Wes Anderson’s anticipated new film The French Dispatch as the first trailer hit the web today, and it turns out there’s something in there for art history nerds.

One of the three stories in the film, which is structured like an anthology, centers around a ruthless art dealer, played by Adrien Brody, who is in pursuit of the work of an incarcerated artist, played by Benicio del Toro. Brody’s character, Julian Cadazio, is based on Joseph Duveen, a highly influential British art dealer who almost single-handedly established an American market for European artwork. 

The film brings together three stories from a fictional magazine also called The French Dispatch, inspired by the New Yorker, and takes place in a fake French city called Ennui-sur-Blasé. The first story, “The Concrete Masterpiece,” follows a character named Moses Rosenthaler (del Toro), a paint-splattered iconoclast called “the loudest artistic voice of his rowdy generation” by the story’s author, J. K. L. Berensen, played by Tilda Swinton.

In one scene, Rosenthaler stands across Cadazio in a jail cell, arguing over the availability of the former’s abstract painting, titled Simone Naked, Cell Block J, Hobby Room.

“I want to buy it,” says Brody’s character.

“It’s not for sale,” says del Toro’s, before the two go back and forth with several rounds of “yes, it is,” “no, it isn’t.”

In the end, it seems Brody won out: Later in the trailer, we see the painting on view in a salon while a voiceover from Swinton says, “The picture was a sensation.” 

Duveen, the early 20th-century inspiration for Brody’s dealer, was notorious for his dogged pursuit of prized artworks, often going to great lengths to acquire them. After amassing a world class collection of European masterpieces, Duveen flipped them to rich industrialists across the pond, including William Randolph Hearst, Andrew Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller. His sales helped form the foundation of many American museums, such as the Frick Collection in New York, and the Mellon and Kress collections in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.

Benicio del Toro (center) as incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Benicio del Toro (center) as incarcerated artist Moses Rosenthaler. Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures..

Today, Duveen’s legacy is often summed up by his oft-quoted saying: “Europe has a great deal of art, and America has a great deal of money.”

Brody, a longtime Wes Anderson collaborator, is no stranger to the world of art making and buying. He debuted his own series of fish and shark paintings at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2015 and followed up the show with a much-publicized exhibition at Art New York in 2016. He’s also a collector, known for frequenting fairs with his pal Leonardo DiCaprio and snatching up works by artists like Alec Monopoly.

In addition to Brody, del Toro, and Swinton, The French Dispatch also features Timothée Chalamet and Lyna Khoudri as student revolutionaries and Jeffrey Wright as a character inspired by James Baldwin. Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Léa Seydoux, and Owen Wilson also make appearances.

See more stills from the film below.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Follow Artnet News on Facebook:

Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.
Article topics