6 Paintings to scare the s*** out of you

As Halloween draws dauntingly closer, I wanted to delve deeper into the unnerving, darker side of art that has haunted us over the centuries.

The beauty of art is that it’s subjective, we make our own minds up on what we see. But some artworks you can’t un-see. There is no choice than to be involuntarily repulsed and automatically respond with remarks like “That’s some f****d up s**t”.

These 6 artworks I’ve selected have given me such a response. From a father gorging on his own son, a mysterious horse with crazy eyes and a bunch of clowns tied and chopped up. Need I say more.


Francis Bacon

Three studies for figures at the base of Crucifixion,” 1944

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 by Francis Bacon 1909-1992
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944 Francis Bacon 1909-1992. Presented by Eric Hall 1953 © Estate of Francis Bacon. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2018

Bacon has always been a bit of a question mark, which makes his work, even today, more alluring, exciting and unique. However, I can be certain that his three studies above are MESSED UP. Just look into those tortured, gaping mouths, writhing and distraught in agony. The title is a religious one and refers to those at the foot of the cross in paintings, but Bacon was referring to the despairing state of the world and humanity after the Holocaust.


Francisco Goya

Saturn Devouring His Son“, 1819-1823

Saturn devouring his son
Francisco Goya “Saturn Devouring His Son”, 1819–1823, Oil mural transferred to canvas, 43cm×81cm © Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Utterly horrifying and completely grotesque (you’re welcome), Goya depicts the Greek myth of Saturn, fearing one of his sons would over throw him, feasting on his flesh. There is a feral madness in Saturn’s widened white eyes. This work is part of the 14 black paintings series and may have been inspired by Peter Paul Rubens‘ 1636 painting of the same name. Make your own mind up on which is more f****d up.


Théodore Géricault

 “Anatomical Pieces”, 1819

Théodore Géricault -
Théodore Géricault – “Anatomical Pieces”, 1819, oil on canvas © Rouen Museum of Fine Arts, France

Part of a gruesome series of chopped up body parts, including severed heads, this is just stomach churning to look at, and yet your eyes are fixated in the shapes and contortions dead flesh makes, the ruby red tones of blood. And with the meat cloth drooping over what I can only imagine is an arm, you feel as though this is just butchered meat ready to be cooked and eaten. Perhaps what’s more horrifying is Géricault used real life limbs from the Paris Morgue to sketch and paint from.


Henry Fuseli

The Nightmare“, 1782

John Henry Fuseli The Nightmare
Henry Fuseli “The Nightmare”, 1782, oil on canvas © Detroit Institute of Arts Museum collection.

An iconic horror piece, Fuseli’s painting created a sensation when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1782. No one really knows what’s going on in this painting. The imp could be nightmare personified, weighing down on the woman who is spread in a way that could express sexual desire . The crazy-eyed horse watching over the scene from the shadows, only adds to this bizarre and unnerving piece.


Jake and Dinos Chapman

“Great deeds against the dead”, 2003

“Great deeds against the dead”, 2003 © Jake and Dinos Chapman

Obsessed by Goya’s ‘The Disasters of War’ series, Jake and Dinos Chapman have repurposed this image to shock us further. No one likes clowns, especially those strung up, mutilated and murdered. But I don’t know what’s more horrific, these spine-chilling clowns or the fact that the Chapman brothers purchased Goya’s original mint condition print collection and systematically defaced them with clown and puppy heads?


Salvator Rosa

Witches at their Incantations

Witches at their Incantations
Salvator Rosa “Witches at their Incantation”, about 1646, oil on canvas © The National Gallery, London.

Naked witches brewing,  nightmarish skeletal creatures, and a lifeless man hanging limp from a dead tree; Rosa’s interpretation of the occult is wretchedly horrific. The foreground is lit to illuminate the scene with a bit too much clarity for my liking. I’ll never want to know what hides under the white sheet.

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