From haunted paintings to tormented artists, the art world has a dark side
At this time of the year, there is an abundance of eerie stories to be shared, especially when it comes to unsettling histories.
The haunted history of two famous paintings
By: Ashley Fish-Robertson, Contributor
The portrait of Bernardo de Galvez has hung on the walls of the Hotel Galvez in Galveston, Texas, since just after the American Revolutionary War. It is known by visitors and paranormal fanatics as one of the most haunted paintings in Texas. With its Spanish colonial revival architecture, Hotel Galvez sits on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico and has been operating since 1911. Several of the hotel’s guests have reported seeing the portrait’s eyes move, and the artwork is known to conjure up feelings of unease. There have even been several reports of visitors attempting to photograph the portrait, but the images always come out blurry and unrecognizable. For those who wish to get a clear picture of Bernardo, the hotel’s staff recommend asking the portrait for permission beforehand.
In 1910, Norwegian artist Edvard Munch completed his masterpiece, The Scream. It is one of the most recognized works of the horror-abstract genre, and served as an outlet for a horrific vision the artist had in his youth. According to some of Munch’s personal writings, his childhood vision encompassed horrific images of “air turned to blood” and the echo of “a huge endless scream course through nature.” Although this painting was inspired by a traumatic moment the artist experienced, the painting itself has several interpretations in the art world especiallywhen considered alongside Munch’s journal entries. In one of his earliest entries, Munch wrote: “Sickness, insanity and death were the angels that surrounded my cradle, and they have followed me throughout my life.”
According to a report by the Smithsonian Museum, this painting “defined how we see our own age—wracked with anxiety and uncertainty” and had a significant influence on the understanding of art in the 18th century. It is the existential dread that haunts viewers the most, according to an in-depth report done by the BBC. The painting has created a popular archetype for horror pop culture, such as influencing the 1996 slasher film Scream.
When death imitates art: The curious ending of Poe
By Lillian Roy, Contributor
It was election night in Baltimore, and Gunner’s Hall bustled with life. The tavern had been temporarily converted into a polling station, although this didn’t seem to impede usual pub activities. Mixing spirits and politics made for a popular cocktail in 1849.
A compositor named Joseph W. Walker was walking by Gunner’s Hall when, in the darkness, he spotted the slumped figure of a man. The man appeared to be exceedingly drunk and was dressed in a cheap, worn gabardine suit and a tattered banana leaf hat. Despite the man’s slurred incoherence, Walker managed to decipher the name of a friend who lived nearby. He sent the following note to Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass:
There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan’s 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, and he says he is acquainted with you, and I assure you, he is in need of immediate assistance.
Yours, in haste,
Jos. W. Walker
Less than a week later, on Oct. 7, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe was pronounced dead.
The details surrounding Poe’s death are a mystery. To date, no one knows why he was in such a delirious state that night. While an inclination to drink heavily might provide some explanation, it fails to account for his peculiar clothing. The poet was generally regarded as quite fashionable—why then, was his suit soiled, ill-fitting and coming apart at the seams?
What also remains unclear is how exactly Poe died. After he was discovered outside the tavern, Poe was rushed to a nearby hospital. During his short stay, he wavered in and out of consciousness, utterly incoherent and seemingly detached from reality.
A lack of reliable evidence has led to the development of numerous theories surrounding Poe’s death. Was it the result of alcoholism, drug abuse, syphilis, influenza, rabies or poison? Was he mugged and beaten into a state of shock? Some have even speculated he died from the effects of a prolonged suicide.
It seems eerily fitting that Poe’s life ended the way it did. In many ways, his departure was as elusive and chilling as his work. Poe’s legacy is so great that historians and literary buffs continue to search for answers, but it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the truth. After all, in the words of Poe himself, “there are some secrets which do not permit themselves to be told.”
Behind Francisco de Goya’s darkness
by Youmna El Halabi, Staff Writer
I believe I speak for most art lovers when I say that “colourful,” “merry” and “pleasing to the general public” are not qualities associated with Francisco de Goya’s work. I was first introduced to the Spanish artist through his infamous El sueño de la razón produce monstruos (The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters). The dark etchings, sombre colours and daunting intensity of the drawings made me believe Goya always produced such darkness. However, that was not the case.
In fact, Goya was avidly admired by the royal Spanish court in the 18th century. For the longest period, his portraits of the royal family were what distinguished him in Spain, namely works like Condesa de Altamira and Her Daughter and Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zúñiga, who was Altamira’s third son. In Goya’s portraits, colours were used in abundance. His landscapes such as Blind Man’s Bluff painted in 1789, were bright and clear.
However, as is the fate of most artists, tragedy struck Goya, forcing him into an isolated life. In 1793, the Spanish artist emerged from a long illness completely deaf, which contributed immensely to his art. Starting in 1797, one can see a growing theme of darkness and disturbance in his work. The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is among the 80 disturbing drawings of his first famous print series, Los caprichos, which encompassed fantasy, satire and ridicule of Spanish society.
Goya’s first dark series paved way for what we now consider his darkest works, The Black Paintings. Comprised of 14 paintings, the collection took about four years to complete. The Black Paintings convey violence, despair, mental illness and evil. Saturn Devouring His Son is a fairly disturbing depiction of the Greek myth of the Titan Cronus eating his child to prevent possible usurpation.
The longer Goya spent away from society, the less colourful his art became. One might agree that colourful works of art always appealed to the masses, but as the renowned Spanish artist became more reclusive, eaten away by depression, he began to paint for himself. No colours, no joy, just projections of his inner turbulence.
Graphics by @spooky_soda