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At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s that time of year again; the nights are getting longer, crunchy leaves are blanketing the streets, and the air is frigid with anticipation – Halloween is coming! I’ve curated a few phantasmal tales for art lovers to kick off our frightful festivities. Here are some of the most haunted paintings you’ll ever read about.
Reader advisory: this article will discuss topics of violence, self-harm, and death. If you feel this content may be triggering, please proceed with caution.
Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864) Sir Edward Landseer
This foreboding painting is inspired by the tragic Franklin expedition. In 1845, Sir John Franklin led a crew of 129 men through the Arctic to find the rumoured northwest passage for the British Empire. If the crew was successful, they would have succeeded in cutting down voyage time when trading with the Americas and in strengthening British power.
The crew left on May 19 with three years worth of supplies and rations; after three years of no contact from the crew, Britain began sending search parties. There would be no updates from the missing expedition until 1854. A recovery crew had found remains after speaking to an Inuit tribe, who had spoken to a group of men looking for food. After analyzing the remains, the recovery crew concluded that these were the remains of the lost Franklin expedition and were concerned to report evidence of cannibalism.
This revelation had many English people horror-stricken, as they held the belief that only “uncivilized” people would resort to eating a fellow human being. But none were as fascinated with this macabre story as UK artist Sir Edward Landseer, who used the tragedy as the foundation for his piece Man Proposes, God Disposes. Depicting two polar bears destroying and consuming human remains, the artwork is a brilliant starter for discussions among art enthusiasts on the resilience of civilization, the power of nature, and the purpose of imperialism.
These discussion themes made the work a perfect addition to the Royal Holloway College’s Art Gallery, where the haunting first began. Originally opened as a women's college (the first higher education institution for women in Britain), the Royal Holloway College hosts its exams in the picture gallery; the same gallery where Man Proposes is hung. According to urban legend, a student was taking an exam and was overcome by the artwork. They wrote on their exam sheet, “The bears made me do it,” before using the same pencil to stab themselves in the eye. While the college can’t confirm the veracity of this incident, they keep the art piece covered during examination periods with a Union Jack flag.
Just in case.
Portrait of a Lady or Mi Novia (1885) Juan Luna
Juan Luna was a renowned Filipino artist of his time, however, his propensity for jealousy and violence pushed one of his paintings to notoriety. Portrait of a Lady, or Mi Novia, is a stunning depiction of a woman in a dressing gown holding a rosary. Some believe the artwork captures his wife, Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera, or Paz to friends and family. However, the figure more resembles Luna's supposedly favourite model, Angela Duche.
When he began creating Mi Novia, Luna was having marital issues with his wife. Luna believed Paz was having an affair with a man named Monsieur Dussaq. She threatened to leave Luna and decided to spend some time living with her mother. In a fit of rage, Luna followed Paz and fatally shot both her and her mother.
Some believe this violent act trapped Paz’s soul in the artwork, causing bad luck for its art loving owners. Past owners of Mi Novia have suffered from various misfortunes, such as bankruptcy, illness, and even death. The artwork is currently on display at the National Museum of the Philippines in Manila.
The Love Letters (1990) Richard King
This particular artwork is unique, as it is not the original that has supernatural rumours surrounding it. The painting Love Letters was first painted by UK artist Charles Trevor Garland (1855-1906), however, artist Richard King made a replica for the infamous Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas. The hotel is a significant landmark for paranormal phenomena, so the art piece is not the only haunted thing within the hotel’s doors.
It is said that the art piece was a tribute to a four-year-old girl. Samantha Houston, daughter of a U.S. senator at the time, was playing on the fifth floor of the hotel. She accidentally threw her ball down the stairs and tragically died while chasing after it. Guests and art enthusiasts who pass by the artwork have reported feeling dizzy and nauseous, as well as experiencing sensations of being lifted in the air. Some have heard giggling on the fifth floor while others have also seen the girl’s expression change from her joyful smile to a sad or angry frown.
Did these spooky masterpieces get you in the Halloween mood? List your favourite haunted art pieces in the comments below!