Articles and Features

The Best Artwork Appearances in TV Shows

By Shira Wolfe

The Simpsons - Elmgreen and Dragset's Prada Marfa

Great artists and artworks are referenced all throughout popular culture, and there’s particular joy to be found in catching a glimpse of familiar pieces in today’s popular TV shows. Refresh your memory and have a look at some of the most memorable art appearances in television.


The Simpsons - Picasso

1. The Simpsons – “MoneyBart”, “Mom and Pop Art” and “Mad About the Toy”

The Simpsons have had several guest appearances by contemporary artists. In 2010, the show’s executive producers invited Banksy to write the opening titles and couch gag for the episode “MoneyBart”. Banksy agreed and sent over storyboards, which resulted in opening titles showing Banksy tagged on walls and billboards across town, and ends in a dark, dystopian factory where workers create Simpson animations under bleak and miserable conditions – Banksy’s poke at The Simpsons’ use of animation studios in South Korea.

In another episode, “Mom and Pop Art”, Marge and Homer visit The Springsonian Museum of Art exhibition “Where the Elite Meet Magritte” so Homer can get inspiration for his own art. Marge walks Homer through the exhibition, explaining about the influence of Claes Oldenburg, J.M.W. Turner, and Picasso (there’s a Simpsons version of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the museum). “By the end of his life he was just writing crank letters to the editor. They call it his angry jerk period”, Marge adds about Picasso. Mondrian and Andy Warhol are also on view at The Springsonian, and Jasper Johns (voiced by himself) makes an appearance, shoving free food in his trench coat, stealing light bulbs and later running off with Marge’s artwork – presumably to use for his own art pieces.

Most recently, in 2019, Elmgreen & Dragset’s Prada Marfa featured in the episode “Mad About the Toy”, continuing The Simpsons’ tradition of satirizing the contemporary art world. The Prada store art installation by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset appeared in Marfa, Texas in 2005 as a bizarre fusion of Pop and land art. On a road trip, Homer, Marge and Lisa stop by the side of the road, thinking “Prada Marfa” is an actual Prada store, but soon discover it’s an art installation. An unimpressed Homer then takes a leak behind the installation, stating it’s by the side of a road, which by definition makes it a bathroom.

Mad Men - Mark Rothko

2. Mad Men – “The Gold Violin”

Mad Men is awash with references to abstract expressionism and other forms of abstract art popular in the ‘60s. Most of the artworks in Mad Men adorning the characters’ offices and homes were created especially for the show, inspired by some of the great modern masters. However, Season 2, Episode 7 explicitly mentions Mark Rothko when Bert Cooper, one of the firm’s partners, purchases a red Rothko painting for his office. Several of the characters stand in front of the painting in bewildered awe, discussing whether or not it “means” anything, evoking a stereotypical  modern art encounter. One of the account executives, Ken Cosgrove, comes closest to describing the affect of a Rothko when he says: “I don’t think it’s supposed to be explained. Maybe it doesn’t [mean anything]. Maybe you’re just supposed to experience it. Because when you look at it, you do feel something, right? It’s like looking into something very deep. You could fall in.”

The 100 - Hieronymus Bosch

3. The 100 – “The 48”  

The 100 features a post-apocalyptic world in which 100 delinquent beings are sent down to Earth to see if they can survive there. In this episode, a colony of humans are seeking refuge from the radioactive world outside on a mountaintop. In one of the scenes, you can catch a glimpse of Hieronymus Bosch’s “Hell” panel from his Garden of Earthly Delights triptych while the characters discuss art. Who better to decorate the walls of a post-apocalyptic world than Hieronymus Bosch?

Doctor Who - Van Gogh

4. Doctor Who – “Vincent and the Doctor”

In this episode, the Doctor (Matt Smith) and his companion Amy Pond (Karen Gillan) travel back in time to meet Vincent van Gogh, after having discovered an alien-like creature in the window of Van Gogh’s The Church at Auvers at the Museé d’Orsay. As it turns out, a monster only Van Gogh can see has been plaguing Provence. After destroying the monster, the Doctor brings Van Gogh into the future so he can see how he is praised as the greatest painter of them all.

Gilmore Girls - Parmigianino and Renoir

5. Gilmore Girls, “The Festival of Living Art”

In this episode of Gilmore Girls, the quirky small town Stars Hollow hosts The Festival of Living Art, in which townspeople pose as famous works of art. Paintings recreated include Renoir’s Dance at Bougival, Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, and Parmigianino’s Portrait of a Young Girl Named Antea. The person portraying Jesus in The Last Supper is, of course, none other than local clown Kirk (Sean Gunn), who takes his role a bit too seriously and starts a fight with the pizza delivery guy who plays Judas. Lorelai (Lauren Graham) struggles to keep still as “the Renoir girl”, and Rory (Alexis Bledel) steals the show as “The Young Girl Named Antea.”

Family Guy - Georges Seurat

6. Family Guy – “The Tan Aquatic with Steve Zissou”

In this Family Guy episode, Stewie has a cancer scare and creates a bucket list of things he wants to do before he dies. One of them is a visit to the museum, where we find Stewie standing in front of Georges Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. With each frame, we see him looking closer and closer at the painting, zooming in on the pointillist technique of the artwork.