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Fictional Painting

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What happens when a work focuses on art, but the story itself is entirely fictional? You get this: the fictional painting, which only exists in-universe. Often these paintings are quite important to the story to where the plot hinges on them, so creative control over the exact details of the painting can be very helpful. If one of the characters is a painter themselves, chances are they'll end up making one of these paintings, but more often they're treated as famous historical works found in museums and galleries.

More notable examples such as the eponymous portrait in The Picture of Dorian Gray tend to be prone to De Fictionalization, sometimes resulting in several different contradictory versions by different artists.

Sister-trope to Fictional Document, Fictional Video Game, and the Show Within a Show. Using this method can avert Artistic License – Art. Related to Anomalous Art.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Black Lagoon, the crew is hired to retrieve a fictional Nazi War Propaganda painting that went down with a U-boat after the fall of the Third Reich off the coast of Thailand. Of course, Neo-Nazis are also after it.

    Comic Books 
  • Bruce Wayne has a painting that's supposedly an early example of the Hudson River school despite not looking like anything from the group. Damian destroyed in the pages of Robin.
  • The Franka album "De Blauwe Venus"note  sees Franka become involved in preventing the theft of the titular De Blauwe Venus. It's a blue-toned painting of an armless woman sitting against a window, hence her resemblance to the Venus de Milo. The thief-to-be turns out to be the owner of a tech company, who got involved in a car crash with his parents at a young age. They died and he lost his arms, giving him a lifelong obsession with arms, lack thereof, and shoulders. Thus he wants the painting for himself. Once the case is over, the story closes with the painting's owner, the very woman depicted, taking it back from the museum that had it on loan. It's revealed that back in the day, she and the artist shared a room in Nice and one afternoon, just before sunset, she sat by the window and draped her arms behind her to rest against the warm outside wall. The artist liked the pose and turned it into a painting he gifted her.
  • In volume #7 of Meridian, Sephie describes a work of art kept on Cadador, the island her Uncle Ilahn rules:
    There's a famous painting in Cadador. It's an image of a beautiful woman cradling a child. When you look again, you see a terrible beast, snarling and about to strike. Once you spot the beast, you can never see the beauty again without flinching.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ghostbusters II features a portrait of Vigo the Carpathian, a sixteenth-century tyrant from Moldavia. The painting becomes central to the plot when Vigo's spirit inhabits the painting and uses it to order museum worker Janosz to do its evil deeds.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel has the Boy with Apple, which becomes central to the plot once it's mentioned in a will.

  • Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception has "The Faerie Thief", which depicts an elf trying to snatch a human baby from its cradle. Legends say the painting was stolen soon after completion and has only ever changed ownership through theft; as a result, its existence is known only to a few of the world's most experienced art thieves, and ownership of it is considered a badge of honor and testament to one's skills as a criminal.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Light Verse": Light-sculptures, a form of Hologram art, are generated by light-consoles. Despite being a popular medium of artistic expression, Mrs Lardner is widely celebrated as one of the best artists and her art is the biggest draw to her parties.
  • Discworld: Featured in several books, Leonard of Quirm's "Woman Holding Ferret" is the Disc's equivalent of the "Lady with an Ermine", and "Mona Ogg", which is obviously the Disc's equivalent of the "Mona Lisa" (which portrays a young Nanny Ogg).
  • Far Rainbow: The painting "Wind", the Magnum Opus of a famous artist visiting the title planet, is the only inanimate object transported off the planet before it is devastated by the Wave.
  • Robert A. Heinlein:
    • "The Green Hills of Earth": Rhysling, the Blind Singer of the Spaceways, is noted as the author of a number of songs, including "The Grand Canal", "Jet Song", and "The Green Hills of Earth".
    • "--We Also Walk Dogs":
      • The "Flower of Forgetfulness" is a beautiful Ming china bowl with unusual aesthetic qualities.
      "It was not that it was beautiful - it was beauty. Its subtle simple curve had no ornamentation, decoration would have sullied it. One spoke softly in its presence, for fear a sudden noise would shatter it."
      "...he bent his head over it and stared down into it. It was strangely hard to focus - to allocate - the bottom of the bowl. It seemed as if his sight sank deeper and ever deeper into it, as if he were drowning in a pool of light."
      • A painting called "The Weeping Buddha" is mentioned to have been created by an artist named Krantz.
  • Stephen King's Duma Key: The main character is an artist, who describes several nonexistent paintings. Many of which sound beautiful, or at least intriguing in their surrealism and spookiness, until you realize what the paintings do...
  • Larry Niven's Known Space stories. The Kdatlyno are blind aliens who create artworks called "touch-sculptures".
    • At the start of the short story "At The Core", Beowulf Schaeffer is looking at a touch sculpture called FTLSPACE by a Kdatlyno named Hrodenu. It looks like a mishmash of a painting, a relief mural, and a sculpture.
    • In the short story "Grendel", space pirates kidnap the famous Kdatlyno touch-sculptor Lloobee and Beowulf Schaeffer helps to rescue him. In thanks, Lloobee creates a set of touch-sculptures depicting Schaeffer and the pirates.
  • Brandon Sanderson's The Emperor's Soul: "Lily of the Spring Pond" is a famous masterpiece, painted by the great artist Han ShuXen for a woman he loved, eventually donated by her children to the Imperial Gallery, and finally stolen by the protagonist Wan ShaiLu. She actually burned it at the request of ShuXen, who reviled the Rose Empire and could not bear to have his work displayed in the palace.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • The painting of Lord Paramount in Whateley Academy's Homer Gallery, which all students are required to see, annually. It also has an enchantment to hide his presence to those who've seen the picture.
    • The painting of Lady Jettatura in the Green Witch's lair, flipped so it's facing away from the room, enchanted so Lady Jettatura cannot scry into her lair.
  • Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray: The eponymous portrait is probably one of the most famous examples of a fictional work of art. It has the unique property of having its subject become gradually more distorted and grotesque as time goes on, mirroring the real Dorian's own moral decay.
  • In the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Thrones, Dominions, the artist Chapparelle paints two portraits: The first is of Harriet, and its in-story purpose is to show her character and to let her see the second portrait in-progress. The second portrait is of Rosamund, and is destroyed by her murderer to hide the clue it portrays: a paper mache mask that the murderer used to fool a witness into thinking the victim was still alive - and thus provide the murderer with an alibi.

    Live-Action TV 
  • An episode of Warehouse 13 involves a Van Gogh painting called "Stormy Night", which has developed dangerous magical properties.
  • A painting called "The Fallen Madonna With the Big Boobies" is a Running Gag in 'Allo 'Allo!
  • The Series Finale of Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide features a trip to a museum to see a fictional painting called "The Wild Boy".
  • Midsomer Murders: In "The Black Book", the sale of a previously unknown painting by an 18th-century painter sends Barnaby into an investigation of murders as well as art forgery. The episode features an entire fictional catalog of paintings by this artist.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series episode "Requiem for Methuselah". While in Flint's mansion Spock discovers a number of da Vinci paintings that have never been cataloged, as well as an unknown waltz by Johannes Brahms. It later turns out that Flint is an immortal who was da Vinci, Brahms, and other famous men. He created the new works after leaving Earth. Flint also has fictional antiques like "The Creation lithographs by Taranullus of Centauri Seven" and "a sten from Marcus Two" (a piece of art, don't ask me what a "sten" is).
  • Death in Paradise: "An Artistic Murder" centers around The Girl from the Mermaid, the final painting by Saint Marie's most famous artist.
  • Doctor Who:

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons has had a number of magical paintings over the years.
    • "Blue on Bronze". An abstract swirl of deep blues and violets. If anyone studies the painting for 20 minutes, the painting will correctly answer any yes or no question.
    • "Dragonnel-by-the-Cliff". A picture of a dragonnel (monster) perched on a rocky cliff over a river valley. If a person viewing the painting says the command word "fuga", the dragonnel will leave the painting and serve them.
    • "The Gladiators". A large painting depicting four gladiators facing off against each other in a sand-covered arena. Anyone who passes in front of the painting without saying a password will be taken into the painting and have to fight the gladiators to the death.
    • "Glorindel's Gates". A set of small paintings created by the wizard-bard Glorindel. Each one acts as a Gate spell, transporting the viewer to the place depicted in the painting.
    • "Glorindel's Living Paintings". These large paintings each show a scene that acts as a TV picture, with things moving and changing as if they were real.
    • "Igraine's Portraits". Each one of these pictures allows the viewer to telepathically communicate with the subject of the painting. If the subject is dead, there is a 50% chance of contacting their soul or spirit.
    • "The Watchers". This work depicts a wooded area with heavy undergrowth. Anyone who looks at it carefully can see the eyes of creatures looking through the brush. anyone who looks at it for too long can have their mind transferred into that of a small woodland animal living nearby.
    • "Widow's Walk". This painting is of the crowded dockside of a busy port. Anyone who looks at it for 10 minutes becomes immune to all divination magic and psionics directed at him for the next eight hours.
    • Dungeon magazine #13 adventure "Going Once...Going Twice". At an auction, one of the items is a painting called "The Seeker" by Michalardo L'Angelo. It's oil-on-wood, about 300 years old and measures two feet by three feet. The subject is a couple of adventurers wearing old-time clothes, holding a map and pointing at a far-away mountian. The minimum bid for the painting is 5,000 gold pieces.
  • Call of Cthulhu:
    • Campaign Shadows of Yog-Sothoth. Several rooms in the lodge hall of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight have a number of murals with horrible images that can cause any viewer to lose SAN (sanity) points.
    • The Asylum And Other Tales, adventure "Westchester House". The MacGuffin of the adventure is a $15,000 painting called "The Hunter". It depicts a man on horseback with two dogs at the horse's feet. The dogs are looking back over their shoulders at a primal forest. Some viewers say they can make out something in the forest looking out at the unsuspecting horseman.
  • Shadowrun supplement Tir Tairngire. Jenna Ni'Fairra is one of the members of the Council of Princes. She has an extremely old painting which depicts her with thorns growing out of her skin. This is a portrait of her when she was Alachia, the elven Queen of the Blood Wood in the Earthdawn setting.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, D&D Expert adventure DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor. The Comeback Inn in Blackmoor has a number of paintings on its walls. One is called Blackmoor Hostel. It shows the Inn itself. Five paintings depict events in the life of King Uther Andahar of Blackmoor: Uther the Justifier, Uther at the Berne, Uther and the Thin Black Line, The Raising of the Royal Banner at Blackmoor and The King and His Companions. Pictures of three of the paintings (Blackmoor Hostel, Uther at the Berne and Uther and the Thin Black Line) are provided in the adventure for players to look at.

    Video Games 
  • Ib is about the various artwork of a fictional artist named Guertena.
  • Kirby:
    • Kirby: Canvas Curse: The Big Bad Drawcia is revealed to be a painting brought to life, and turns back into a painting in the end.
    • Kirby: Triple Deluxe introduces one of the bosses, Paintra, who used to be a normal painting until Taranza gives her life. Her Flavor Text mentions that she and another painting are described as "a pair of sisters separated at birth".
  • The plot of Layers of Fear is driven by the increasingly unstable painter protagonist's attempt to finish his last portrait which he believes will bring back his wife, who he Drove To Suicide with neglect. A few other paintings by him also make appearances, including Baby Face, a portrait of a child with hypertrichosis.
  • Persona 5 has the 'Sayuri', a painting of a young woman looking down and smiling, which delighted the art world in its mystery - who is that woman and why is she smiling? The painting was produced by Yusuke's mother as a self-portrait, and the original version showed her holding the baby Yusuke in her arms. When Madarame took advantage of her death and took Yusuke on as a protege, he painted over her arms so that the baby was no longer visible on the correct prediction that the ambiguity of the image would make it more appealing (and profitable).
  • Arcanum: In one quest, your character is tasked with recovering the painting "Kerghan and Persephone", recently stolen from the estate of the Garringsburgs, a family of Tarantian aristocrats.
  • Minecraft lets you craft paintings to decorate your base with. While most of them are based on real paintings by Kristoffer Zetterstrand, one is original to the game, depicting the construction process of the Wither. You can modify them or even create your own paintings if you access the game's texture files for the in-game paintings, and some mod or texture packs come with their own modified paintings.
  • One of Hotel Dusk: Room 215's big mysteries revolves around the missing painting of the artist Osterzone called "Angel Opening a Door".
  • Most of the paintings in the Princess Toadstool's castle in Super Mario 64 are entrances to worlds in Mushroom Kingdom, where Mario has to recover the stars and save the princess from Bowser.
  • In the third and fourth installments of The Sims, the player's Sim can gain the Painting skill if they have an easel. More artistic Sims have an easier time painting. When a Sim is finished painting, they can hang it on their wall or sell it for money. Different styles of paintings, such as abstract art or portraits, are unlocked the higher their Painting level is. Emotional paintings can be made if the Sim feels sad, excited, or angry, among other feelings.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation
    • SCP-151 ("The Painting"). SCP-151 is a painting of an underwater scene. Anyone who looks at it will slowly drown over the next 24 hours.
    • SCP-800 ("An Eastern History"). SCP-800 is an East Asian paper scroll painting that alters its appearance to symbolically represent current armed conflicts in Asia.
    • SCP-1074 ("Stendhal's Nightmare"). SCP-1074 is a painting called Stendhal's Nightmare that consists entirely of a grey background. Anyone looking at it suffers from Stendhal syndrome (increased heart rate, sweating, and vertigo). They will describe seeing a highly detailed painting, but each person will give a different description.
    • SCP-1753 ("Vertigo"). SCP-1753 is a painting of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. It causes the viewer to perceive a drop of any height as being a 2,000-foot high cliff face. If the viewer jumps over the drop, they will impact the ground as if they had actually fallen 2,000 feet.
    • SCP-1891 ("Constructeur"). SCP-1891 is a painting of a humanoid clothed in construction tools (wrenches, hammers, etc.). If any other painting is brought into the same structure as SCP-1891, the other painting will change to a depiction of large industrial machines. The humanoid will disappear from SCP-1891 and appear in the other painting, maintaining the machines.
    • SCP-2071 ("Sir Michael Cavendish, in the Guise of the King of Serpents"). SCP-2071 is a painting of a snake man wearing an 18th-century British military uniform. Anyone touching the painting dies from snake venom created by their own body. All reptiles within 5 kilometers of the painting try to move toward it if possible. There are three other anomalous paintings by the same painter: The Rood and the Pit, The Hunting Party and Celia Penrose, in the Guise of a Fountain.


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