A large source of the show’s comedy is its background jokes, which include parodies of LA landmarks, caricatures of celebrity culture, and a fair amount of animal puns. But oft overlooked are the works of art throughout the show. The paintings hung around Bojack’s home heavily reflect his inner turmoil and are representative of his character. Read below for a list of all the art world references made throughout Bojack Horseman.
Opening – Andy Warhol
The first major painting we’re introduced to is actually in the opening credits, the painting of the horseshoes above his bed, which is a clear homage to the works of Andy Warhol. Warhol used repetition to show the ubiquity of images in the media. While this painting could be purely be another animal joke, it’s worth noting that Warhol himself loved and satirized celebrity culture. In fact, Warhol famously coined the phrase “15 minutes of fame”, which sets a backdrop to Bojack’s reality.
Season 1 Episodes 2, 3, and 5 – Henri Matisse (Dance)
Another recurring painting in Bojack’s home is Dance by Henri Matisse. The piece depicts nude figures dancing freely together in a circle. Both its content and primitive aesthetic is meant to evoke its themes: liberation and hedonism. Because of this, we often see this painting in the episodes where BoJack’s home is used in excess, such as Sarah Lynn and her lemur friends throwing a wild party, or when Todd pretends that BoJack’s home belongs to David Borianis to make profit from tours.
Season 1 Episode 8 – Keith Haring
A series of Keith Haring paintings are hung around Bojack’s apartment during the flashback (which are no longer there in the present) of him finding out his best friend Herb Kazzaz is gay. One of the most prolific artists of the 80s, his work addressed homosexuality, the politics around it, and the rise of AIDS.
Season 1 Episodes 8 and 11 – Burt Reynolds
Hung in Bojack’s green room during his Horsin’ Around days, the photo could be seen as BoJack’s obsession with himself. However it up pops up again when Bojack is attempting to write his book. Given that we see it at different points in BoJack’s life, it can also be seen as representing his inescapable past. Burt Reynolds himself has said that he regretted the photo shoot and he believed it hurt his chances at an Academy Award.
Season 1 Episode 9 – Mark Rothko
Rothko paintings are often mocked for their multi million dollar price tags for paintings that are usually comprised of 3 or less colors. Wallace Shawn describes his obsession with them as a disease, one that most people fail to understand.
Season 1 Episode 10 – David Hockney (Portrait of an Artist)
Right behind BoJack’s desk is arguably the most prominent painting of the entire series, David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist, also known as Pool With Two Figures. The story behind the painting shares many commonalities with BoJack’s own story. Hockney moved from Great Britain to California in the 1960s and later moved into a canyon house, much like Bojack. Hockney became known for paintings featuring swimming pools which were a rarity in Britain, but so abundant in Los Angeles that people take them for granted. In a way, Hockney commented on the ubiquity of swimming pools as a facade, rather than a representation, of the luxurious and relaxed Californian life. Bojack mirrors the lonliness of the painting. Also, when Hockney painted this piece in 1972, he had come out of a long term relationship, finding himself depressed and often shut away in his own home. Sound familiar? The symbolism of the superficial, the story of loneliness and detachment, and even the look of the painting itself all illustrate BoJack’s ongoing turmoils.
Season 2 Episode 1 – Franz Marc (Blue Horse)
As Bojack turns over a new leaf, he adds new paintings to his house, including Blue Horse I by Franz Marc. Marc was an abstract expressionist who was known for painting animals, mostly horses. To Marc, horses represented innoncence and spirtuality, the qualities Bojack is trying to gain a FAB (fresh active BNA, BNA stands for brand new attitude, duh).
Season 2 Episode 1 – Jean-Michel Basquiat
As a parallel to Haring’s work in Bojack’s home, hung in Herb’s office are works of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Both Haring and Basquiat were prominent in the 80s, fitting into the show’s love for overt time-period references. But also, the two artist were also close friends, similar to Bojack and Herb.
Season 2 Episode 1 – Claude Monet (Water Lilies)
I guess the frog’s missing his habitat, one where he doesn’t stick to anything. Upon on the Charlie Witherspoon’s wall is a painting from Monet’s Water Lilies series.
Season 2 Episode 7 – Shepard Fairey (Obey Giant)
Just a punny parody with a sheep since the original artist’s name is Shepard.
Season 2 Episode 9 –Thomas Kinkade
In the middle of a high pressure standoff with police during a gallery break in, Princess Carolyn is taken by the serene idyllic scene painted by no other than Thomas Kinkade. While Kinkade was one of the most financially successful artists, his art was dismissed by art critics as “kitsch”. The show mocks it by entitling the piece, Fuzzy Glowing Nonsense. In some ways the show uses an often mocked painting, to mock Princess Carolyn’s false interest in this idyllic lifestyle she soon gives up.
Season 2 Episode 9 – George Rodrigue (Blue Dog) and Deborah Butterfield
In addition to the Thomas Kinkade painting in the gallery, there are two pieces. On the left, is a horse by Deborah Butterfield a sculptor, most known for making horses from wood and metal pieces. On the right is a popular selling artist George Rodrigue who for decades almost exclusively painted Blue Dogs with yellow eyes.
Season 2 episode 10 –Édouard Manet (Olympia)
The conflict between high art and low-brow tastes is embodied in the Manet’s piece Olympia, which hangs over the dinner table in Abe’s and BoJack’s confrontation. Olympiastirred controversy when originally unveiled, as the woman in the painting was hinted to be a prostitute. This caused much debate as to the piece’s artistic merits, just as BoJack questions the merits of Abe’s work. But of course it wouldn’t be Bojack without some sort of visual gag. Those who are familiar with the original by Manet will notice that the small cat in the corner is anthropomorphized in the show.
Season 3 Episode 5 – Roman Mosaic
The roman style mosaic hung over Bojack’s bathroom is typical of ones found in the home of aristocrats. Typically used as an expression of wealth and power, the mosaic is shown during one of Bojack’s insecure moments as he waits to find out whether his film was a success. The mosaic expresses his need for images that reinforce his importance in moments of doubt.
Season 3 Episode 11 – John Everett Millais (Ophelia)
Like Bojack’s home, the paintings drawn above Sarah Lynn’s bed and in her living room reflect her personality. With arms open like a martyr, the painting hung above Sarah Lynn’s bed depicts the tragic off screen death of Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Like Ophelia, Sarah Lynn is a victim of her own self-destructive and unstable nature. If you’ve watched this episode, you know why this painting is here.
Season 3 Episode 11 – Marc Chagall (The Birthday)
The subjects in the painting are Chagall and his wife Bella before they married, floating in the air and craning his neck to kiss his future bride. According to Sarah Lynn the painting is made of LSD, and the painting is just as trippy as the visions LSD will give them. However, this intimate moment of euphoric love is something Bojack and Sarah Lynn have never found, a thought they need drugs to escape from.
Season 3 Episode 2 – Damien Hirst (The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living)
One of Damien Hirst’s, a member of the Young British Artists, most famous works, the piece is a conceptual work, comprised of a dead tiger shark preserved in formaldehyde. To many it represents the absurdity of art market prices, reportedly selling for somewhere between 8-12 million dollars.
Season 3 Episode 4 – Pablo Picasso (Figure at the Seaside)
The phallic and erotic symbols in the original painting portrays the figures interactions primitive and obscene, rather than something beautiful. The smooth almost rocklike figures are stripped to their essentials, in the same way Bojack has been stripped to his bare essence underwater, unable to speak or escape through smoking or drinking.
Season 3 Episode 4 – George Bellows (Stag at Sharkey’s)
A realist painter and part of the Ashcan School, George Bellows is recognized for depicting daily lives of New Yorkers, particularly of underground boxing matches. Instead of two boxers the painting has been parodied as a fight between Ahab and Moby Dick.
Season 3 Episode 5 –Diego Rivera (Man Loading Donkey with Firewood)
Rivera was active member within the Mexican Communist party, whose works depict the struggles of the working class. The high selling prices of Rivera’s works are controversial for how they’ve become part of the capitalist system the artist rebelled against. That irony is further embraced by the show, hanging it in an overpriced restaurant in Beverly Hills which Bojack parties at after finding out his film is a success.
Season 3 Episode 5 – Gustav Klimt (The Kiss)
Replacing the humans with snakes, the painting hung in famous actor Alexi Brosefino, is a reference to Gustav Klimt’s art nouveau work The Kiss. The painting captures an intimate and tender moment between two lovers, the same intimacy Diane tries to regain with her husband throughout this episode.
Season 4 Episode 1 – Shepard Fairey (Obama Poster)
The second Shepard Fairey reference we’ve seen in the show, Mr. Peanutbutter recreates Obama’s iconic “Hope” poster for his race. But as we know, there’s isn’t much hope of Mr. Peanutbutter becoming governor.
Season 4 Episode 3 – Alexandros of Antioch (Venus de Milo)
One of the world’s most famous sculptures, the Venus de Milo was sculpted between 130 and 100 BC and depicts Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She’s associated with beauty, pleasure, sexuality, probably things we can associate with Channing Tatum too.
Season 4 Episode 5 – Michelangelo (David)
Can’t get to Rome to see one of the most famous sculptures? Head over to sushi to find a fountain version in the parking lot.
Season 4 Episode 7 – Henri Matisse (Bathers with a Turtle)
Bojack artists seem to be a fan of Matisse, with Matisse’s other piece Dance in season 1. To the right of Todd’s bath is Bathers with a Turtle with three dogs instead of girls. In the painting each figure is absorbed in their own thoughts as they look down at the turtle. Matisse didn’t wish for viewers to read a narrative within the piece, but rather focus on the interactions of shape and color. Like the bathers, Todd is not aware of the party and the chaos around him, instead saying, “I realized the bath was the party.”
Season 4 Episode 8 – Atlas
Another cheeky parody of ancient mythology in the fountain in front of the Stilton’s house. Instead of a Atlas holding up the world, a mouse holds up a ball of cheese.
Season 4 Episode 11 – Edgar Degas
Degas was a leading Impressionist painter. Born into a wealthy family, he often painted scenes of middle class leisure, such as ballet. While painting real life scenes, he also endowed his paintings with a sense of the mysterious and fantastical. The painting is fitting for Beatrice Sugarman’s debutante ball, a symbol of upper middle class lifestyle she has such disdain for.
Season 4 Episode 12 – Staatliches Bauhaus
Finally, at the end of season 4, as Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are at Slotheby’s Real Estate (a pun on Sotheby’s), a picture on the back shows a sleek modern building with “Bowhaus” written along the side. The Bauhaus building in Dessau, Germany. Staatliches Bauhaus was one of the most influential art schools that was formed in Weimar, Germany. Focusing on function above all, the Bauhaus school defined modern architecture, with its minimalist style.