As Seen on ‘Eyes Wide Shut’: The Floral Still Lifes of Christiane Kubrick

Also, a cat painting by the director's daughter, Katharina Kubrick.

Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Photo: United Archives GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo.

As Seen On explores the paintings and sculptures that have made it to the big and small screens—from a Bond villain’s heisted canvas to the Sopranos’ taste for Renaissance artworks. More than just set decor, these visual works play pivotal roles in on-screen narratives, when not stealing the show.

The apartment of Bill and Alice (played by Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman), the conflicted couple at the heart of Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 psychological drama Eyes Wide Shut, is filled to the brim with paintings, some of which were created by none other than the director’s own wife, Christiane.

Christiane Susanne Harlan was born in 1932 in Braunschweig, Germany. Originally trained as a dancer and actress, she met Kubrick on the set of his antiwar film Paths of Glory (1957), where she played an unnamed singer who enchants a band of rowdy soldiers with her voice. She started painting after studying art in California, building a successful career with exhibitions in Rome, London, and New York. She continues to reside in Childwickbury, a hamlet in Hertfordshire, the U.K., where she and her husband raised their children.

“We were suited in that I could paint at home and he could do most of the preparation and editing at home,” she once reflected about their shared creative life. “And painters are sitting ducks for conversation, so I was a good sounding board. I could be found very easily.”

Bill and Alice’s apartment in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). Katharina Kubrick’s painting of her father’s cat hangs on the left wall. Photo: Screen grab.

Christiane’s most prominently featured work in Eyes Wide Shut is titled Seedbox Theatre, a long landscape depicting a garden with graphically rendered flowers, which hangs in the couple’s dining room. Another, a 35-by-26 inch still life of flowers with a Buddha statue called Presents for Tourists, is installed on an abutting wall.

Christiane’s paintings serve as more than decoration. Their floral subject matter reinforces the movie’s themes of lust and decay. Another work titled Homage to Van Gogh, an imitation of the Dutch master’s work seen in the background as the characters eat breakfast and watch TV, evokes the concepts of truth and authenticity, which play a central role in this story about a troubled marriage.

Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut (1999). A painting by Christiane Kubrick hangs in the background. Photo: Screen grab.

As author Juli Kearns explains in a frame-by-frame analysis of the film:

“What is authentic and what is not the real thing? What hasn’t fidelity? Butter is not butter and what represents itself as a bear is instead honey. In the Looney Tunes cartoon, Santa proves to instead be the Tasmanian Devil when the soot is removed. And then there’s Christiane’s rendering of Van Gogh flowers in homage of him.”

Eyes Wide Shut isn’t the only Kubrick film to showcase Christiane’s work—her floral paintings can also be spotted in 1971’s A Clockwork Orange, yet another commentary on sex and society. Nor is Christiane the only member of the Kubrick family to contribute to the set design: in the long hallway in Bill and Alice’s apartment hangs a large oil on canvas portrait of the director’s beloved cat, Polly, painted by his daughter Katharina for his 60th birthday.

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