How art paints a picture of power in succession

A promotional poster for the first season of Succession with an impressive painting by Peter Paul Rubens. (all images courtesy of Warner Media)

Succession, Jesse Armstrong’s hugely popular satirical drama follows the dynastic battles of the Roy family over Waystar RoyCo, a crime-ridden media conglomerate led by the venomous Patriarch Logan Roy. Really, however, this show is about how terribly wealthy people can be. And do you know what wealthy people love? Collect art.

So it fits well that the sterile white walls of the Waystar offices in Manhattan and the sophisticated high-rise apartments of the Roys are adorned with paintings and sculptures. Many of them are deliberately inconspicuous and unexpectedly camouflage themselves in the ingeniously staged, aseptic modern interiors that reflect the empty personalities of the protagonists. But other works of art in Succession seem to reveal deeper meaning by channeling narrative and visual strategies to add tension and anticipate key storylines.

Ahead of the season three finale this Sunday on HBO and HBO Max, we’ll discuss five particularly compelling curatorial choices that paint a picture of power, deceit, and unrestrained capitalism – from baroque paintings to an imaginary contemporary art installation in New York’s Hudson Yards . (For those who haven’t seen the show, be warned: there are some spoilers below.)

Peter Paul Rubens’ Bloody Tiger Hunt

Peter Paul Rubens, “The Tiger Hunt” (1615-17) (via Wikimedia Commons)

The first advertising poster for Succession famous a work of art to set the stage for what was to come. Logan Roy and the four aspirants to the throne of Waystar RoyCo stand in front of Peter Paul Rubens’ “The Tiger Hunt” (1615-17), a dynamic composition in the collection of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rennes which plays off humans against animals in an impressive vicious confrontation. Inspired by one allegedly destroyed Leonardo masterpiece, “The Battle of Anghiari”, Rubens depicted a dense group of attacking hunters and bloodthirsty cats, with no clear winner or distinction between predator and prey. The canvas is one of four in a cycle that was confiscated from the Old Schleissheim Castle in Germany by the French during the Napoleonic Wars, a 12-year struggle for European supremacy that was almost as ruthless and controversial as the battle of the Roy -Children for control of their father’s media empire. (Bonus: A fan of the show spotted a picture from Kendall apparently disguised as Napoleon in a recent episode of season 3.)

A contemporary photo That indicates a total collapse

Brian Cox as Logan Roy in Succession Season 1, episode 1, with artwork by Frank Thiel.

A picture of a towering glacier in the show’s pilot appears as low-key boardroom art at Waystar RoyCo’s headquarters, but closer reading reveals an ominous subtext. The photograph is “Spegazzini # 01” (2012/2013) by the artist Frank Thiel, a crystal-clear portrait of the namesake Mammoth glacier ice formation in the Argentine Patagonia. It is part of a series that deals with the “strength and majesty” of nature as well as its “fragility and endangerment”, explains a Press release from Thiel’s gallery, a binary file that conveniently describes all the egos in this show. Even if you ask me, nothing says impending doom like a huge piece of ice. The chromogenic print hangs during a meeting for Kendall’s failed Vaulter takeover when Logan unexpectedly walks in and asks his son to sign “household papers.” The request makes Kendall, who expects to be announced as the new CEO later on his father’s 80th birthday, visibly nervous … and we all know how that ends.

A Dutch portrait of the spy Louis XIV

Jeremy Strong as Kendall Roy, Brian Cox as Logan Roy and Hiam Abbass as Marcia Roy in season 1, episode 5 of Succession.
Peter Lely, “Portrait of Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth” (c. 1671–1674) (via Wikimedia Commons)

In the fifth episode of season one, Kendall begins planning a no-confidence vote against his father, while Tom Wambsgans, Shiv Roy’s fiancé, assigns cousin Greg to destroy documents related to Waystar’s cover-up of outrageous crimes at the company’s cruise line. Logan’s brother Ewan Roy is invited from Canada to celebrate Thanksgiving, which leads to a bitter exchange between the two siblings. Amid this jumble of cunning and betrayal hangs the portrait of Dutch baroque painter Peter Lely of Louise de Keroualle, a spy for Louis XIV of France before she became the favorite lover of King Charles II of England and later Duchess of Portsmouth. According to the Getty Museum, where the work is located, De Keroualle used her influence strategically to strengthen ties between the two monarchs. From Logan Roy’s living room wall, she watches the catastrophic family dinner with amusement, sensually plays with a strand of hair when Ewan confronts his brother: “It’s not about money. Haven’t you heard of ethics? ”(Apparently he hasn’t.)

A telling scene from Dante’s inferno

A poster for the second season of Succession, with Bouguereau’s canvas in the background.

As with the show’s debut, the artwork for a season two promotional poster was made by Succession is anything but subtle. The embattled Roy siblings sit around a dining table with Tom and cousin Greg, with Logan at the head, the only figure standing. William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s “Dante and Virgil“(1850), an oil canvas with a scene from Dante infernoIt’s hanging on the wall right behind him. And not just any scene: located in the eighth circle of hell, which is reserved for counterfeiters and imitators, the painting shows the author and his guide Virgil, who watch two damned souls let off steam. One of them, the heretic Capocchio, is bitten in the neck by Gianni Schicchi, an Italian knight usurped the identity of the deceased and forged his will to claim his inheritance. Could this be a devious allusion to Logan’s character, whose death is a continually popping fantasy in the eyes of the megalomaniac Roy children? Bouguereau added to the suspiciously specific reference that Bouguereau submitted the work as his third entry to the Prix de Rome after failing to win the prestigious award twice before, and the Musée d’Orsay where the work is located says, the artist is “hungry for vengeance. “(Spoiler: he lost again.)

And finally, an immersive vagina installation

Alan Ruck as Connor Roy, Justine Lupe as Willa Ferreyra, Sarah Snook as Shiv Roy and Matthew Macfadyen as Tom Wambsgans in episode 7, season 3 of Succession.

In Season 3 Episode 7, as part of his increasingly desperate attempt to appear socially relevant, Kendall Roy is holding his 40th birthday party at the Shed, the multidisciplinary arts center in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards. (The neighborhood is the largest private development in the US, built valued at $ 25 billion and was named Playground of the ultra-luxurious billionaires; it’s also home to the controversial vascular structure that saw four suicidal deaths.) To enter Kendall’s sad anniversary of the rich boy, guests, including siblings Connor, Roman, and Shiv, walk past and through video screens showing squirming sperm a tunnel-like art installation made of pink inflatable material. At the end they are greeted by a woman in a nurse’s costume who calls out: “Congratulations! You were just born into the world of Kendall Roy. ”The immersive environment was designed for the show, but it’s reminiscent of the tricky, Instagram-made“ experiences ”wannabes like Kendall would likely flock to, along with expensive“ street art “And NFTs. (The installation is probably also a nod to Nikki St. Phalles’ much more succinct “Hon” (1966), in which visitors stepped through a tunnel or cervix into a giant sculpture of the body of a pregnant woman.) At a particularly timely moment, The episode deals with intellectual property issues when Roman asks Kendall if he has obtained her mother’s permission to create the play. “Call me old-fashioned,” says Roman. “But I think you should ask before you build a giant replica of someone’s vagina.”

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