A painting is a form of expression of the imagination, or an artistic portrayal of reality. It is produced by the artist to be appreciated and admired by the viewer, primarily for its beauty and emotional power.
But, there are paintings out there that possess emotional powers beyond beauty and serenity, and instead captivate their viewers in the most frightening ways. Staring at creepy paintings could stir all kinds of tense and uncomfortable feelings inside a person, perhaps due to the disturbing stories behind the images, or simply because they look eerie.
But what if a piece of art could cause strange incidents and occurrences to those who encounter it? You might doubt that an inanimate object could ever be haunted. Can a spirit attach itself to a particular thing and then cause unexplained events to occur around it? It’s impossible, you might think.
However, the following haunted paintings and their disturbingly chilling stories suggest otherwise.
1. The Dead Mother
Famous 1800s Norwegian painter, Edvard Munch, who is best known for producing the renowned painting The Scream, was weighed down by a childhood tragedy that showed through his masterpieces.
When he was a young boy, most of Munch’s family, including his brother, sister and mother passed away from tuberculosis. His father, who was quite religious, had told him that their deaths came as “divine punishments for their sins,” which left a miserable and unhappy impression on Munch’s childhood – one he carried with him throughout his adult years.
A glimpse of his childhood misfortune could be seen in one of his paintings named The Dead Mother. It depicts a small traumatized girl standing near her mother’s bed-ridden body as she slowly succumbs to tuberculosis. In the image, the little girl is facing the viewer and grabbing the sides of her head in shock and disbelief, which sounds just like the pose portrayed in The Scream.
Some would say that, contrary to the girl’s distraught pose almost begging the audience for help, the faraway look in her eyes shows that she has already broken free from reality. It is as if she is trying to block out the stillness of the room, or the news that her mother is gone forever. Many viewers think that Edvard Munch managed to transfer his emotional anguish into the painting and gave it life.
Previous owners of the painting say that the girl’s piercing blue eyes would follow them as they move. If that’s not haunting enough, they also claim to be able to hear the rustle of the mother’s bed sheets when they get close to the painting. The piece of art is now maintained at the Kunsthalle, in Bremen.
2. The Hands Resist Him
Perhaps the most famous haunted painting on the internet, The Hands Resist Him dates back to 1972 and was painted by Bill Stoneham.
Much like Edvard Munch, Stoneham created it as a way to express his feelings about his childhood. He was adopted at a very early age and never knew his biological parents. The main inspiration behind Stoneham’s artwork was an old photograph his parents took of him at 5 years old, where he is pictured alongside a little girl from the neighborhood with whom he frequently played.
Twenty years after this photo was taken, Stoneham turned it into a work of art that would later terrify the masses. The image in the painting shows a terrifying looking doll with black eyes beside a boy who stares directly into the viewer’s eyes. Behind the boy, disembodied hands press up against a glass divider that’s said to represent the barrier between the waking and dream world.
Two years after its completion, a man called Charles Feingarten displayed the painting in his gallery. It was then purchased by actor John Marley. Soon after that, the painting received its first review by art critic Henry Seldis. Within a period of only six years, Feingarten, Marley, and Seldis were all dead.
The painting eventually resurfaced on eBay, where its terrified seller claimed the figures in the artwork came to life at night. This was after his 4-year-old daughter said, “The children in the picture are fighting”, which made the father set up a motion-sensitive camera in her room.
When it came time to review what was caught on camera, he saw the boy crawl from the painting, and the doll coming to life and using a ‘gun’ held in her hand to force the boy to leave the painting. This frightened many eBay users, with some claiming that merely viewing the painting caused blackouts and physical illness.
The painting has since been acquired by an art gallery and is locked away in the gallery’s storage space.
3. Pogo the Clown
In the early 1970s, John Wayne Gacy was regarded as an important contributor to the community. He was a loving husband, a successful restaurant manager, and an upstanding citizen who dressed up as a clown at events to raise money for local charities. His alter ego was called “Pogo the Clown”. Many sick children in local hospitals received visits from “Pogo”. Yet, beneath the floorboards of his house, were the bodies of 33 raped and tortured teenage boys. Gacy was exposed and convicted as a depraved serial killer.
In prison and on death row, Gacy began oil painting. His paintings evoked a bizarre mixture of repulsion and intrigue within those who sought to own them. There was one piece in particular which is claimed to have absorbed Gacy’s murderous instinct. In 2001, singer Nikki Stone bought the painting for $3,000.
Shortly after, Stone noticed a string of tragedies follow him. His dog suddenly died, and then his mother discovered she had cancer. Alarmed, he arranged to have the painting stored at a friend’s house. While the friend was hanging on to it, a close neighbor died in a car accident.
The painting was later handed over to another friend, but the eerie glare of Gacy’s Pogo haunted the man until he attempted suicide. Stone had no choice but to sell the painting.
4. Portrait of Samantha Houston
Samantha Houston was the adorable 4-year-old daughter of a Texas senator in 1887, or as some people later knew her, the girl who lives inside the painting. It all started when Samantha’s father stayed at the Driskell Hotel in Austin, Texas while on official state business, and brought her with him. One day while Samantha was playing by herself in the hotel and chasing after a ball, she fell down a large flight of stairs to her death.
Seven days after her death, hotel visitors claimed to encounter her ghost in the halls and would see her bouncing the same ball in the lobby. It was also claimed that she could be heard giggling in the ladies’ room, as well as by the stairs where she died.
The paranormal sightings of Samantha Houston didn’t end there. After the tragic accident, her wealthy father hired a painter, Richard King, to commemorate her death with a grand portrait to be displayed at the Driskell. However, it seemed as if her spirit shifted itself inside the canvas shortly after it was hung on the wall.
In the picture, Samantha holds flowers and looks innocent, but it has been said by present-day hotel staff and guests that if you stare at the painting long enough, her expression changes. Sometimes her mouth appears to widen into a full smile, and other times her face would contort.
Some visitors say that the picture makes them feel violated and nauseous. At times they even feel like they’re being lifted into the air, or they too, are tumbling down a set of stairs. Likewise, when Samantha feels like playing a joke she will shake the door handles of the Yellow Rose suite that’s located next to her painting, to let people know she is still there.
In the Eye of the Observer
These are only a fraction of the haunted paintings which exist in our world, that are now either hanging in galleries, or locked away. There is no doubt that paintings have a powerful influence over us. After all, when an artist puts their brush to a canvas, they are channelling their soul, imagination and memories into the images that we see, and these images can have a compelling emotional impact.
We can be moved to tears, reduced to a depressed wreck, be given inspiration, uplifted, disgusted, or even petrified. But is it really possible for paintings to channel inscrutable powers beyond our understanding? Could these horrifying incidents just be coincidences or the result of overactive imaginations? Or is it just possible that some unknown energy surrounds these portraits and has an effect on reality?
Perhaps we will never truly know the answer to these questions. All we know is that more than any other object, a painting is a one-of-a-kind piece of art created by someone using their hands, and sometimes, those hands are capable of creating something that can haunt people for centuries.