Top 10 of the World's Scariest Paintings

Added Oct 19, 2020

Because Halloween is coming, and the coronavirus isn’t going to take over our traditions, we would like to introduce you to 10 artists who have transcended the history of art with dark, oppressive or dramatic artworks that you certainly wouldn't want to hang above your bed. 

In general, when we evoke art, we think about picturesque scenes, sunny landscapes, water lilies or luminous portraits. Today, you’re invited into the abyss of the artistic imagination, into the darkest depths of the human condition: we offer you a ticket to anguish

Johann Heinrich Füssli, The Nightmare, 1781
Detroit Institute of Arts, United States

Johann Heinrich Füssli (1741-1825) was a British painter born in Switzerland. At a very young age, he shows a particular attraction for fantastic subjects, rarely treated at this time. At the quintessence of his art, The Nightmare depicts a woman during a troubled dream, incarnated by the demon standing above her and the head of a horse, an essential part of nightmare folklore at this period.
For contemporary analysts, this painting represents a preface anticipating Freudian concepts relating to subconscious. Some will even consider the demon as an allegory of the male libido, and the intrusion of the horse through the curtain as an evocation of the sexual act. In any case, the painter has never offered any indication about the symbolic nature of this disconcerting artwork.

Edvard Munch, The Murderer, 1910
Munchmuseet Oslo, Norway

Edvard Munch (1863-1944), a Norwegian artist considered one of the pioneers of Expressionism, made history with his artwork The Scream (1893). He was also considered a master of morbid, as he produced many artworks depicting crime scenes or murderers (Murder - 1906, The Death of Marat - 1907, Murder on the Road - 1919 ...).
This artwork certainly refers to K.N. Svartbækken, a Norwegian criminal who was publicly beheaded in 1876 for having killed a 19-y-o teenager with an axe as he was returning home in a sleigh.
For some art historians, this artwork is the hidden face of the emblematic Munch's Scream, its protagonist showing a marked anguish in the face of his assailant's sinister gait.

Théodore Géricault, The Severed Heads, 1818
Nationalmuseum Stockholm, Sweden

The author of the famous Raft of the Medusa (1818-1819), Théodore Gericault, was considered by his contemporaries as an obsessive perfectionist. Before producing the artwork that would mark his career, he made many studies of corpses, amputated or fragmented bodies, including these famous Severed Heads. The pragmatism of the painter in the elaboration and treatment of his research on death becomes nearly intolerable, offering the observer a spectacle that no one wishes to experience.
The artist, in a permanent search for authenticity, received in his studio real human body parts, as well as severed heads: bon appétit.

Bill Stoneham, The Hands Resist Him, 1972
Collection particulière, Etats-Unis

This artwork, also called eBay’s Haunted Painting, was created by a Californian artist: Bill Stoneham. It depicts a young boy with a livid look and a doll of nearly human proportions, in front of a dark glass door through which several hands are leaning.
In February 2000, this artwork became legendary when it was put on sale on Ebay, with a disturbing description of the family who owned the painting, explaining that their 4-year-old daughter had seen the boy and his doll fighting and coming into her room at night. To this description were added photographs from a CCTV camera, showing the doll holding what looks like a gun, and other alarming testimonies corroborated this astonishing curse.
Although this story turned out to be a well-strung fake, the anguish that emanates from this painting stems mainly from its power of suggestion, as the artist has opened an unlimited field of interpretation.

Odilon Redon, The Smilling Spider, 1887
Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Odilon Redon (1840-1916) was a French painter and printmaker from the Symbolist movement. His universe, mixing occult and esoteric, explores mechanisms of thought and dream. In this artwork, he represents a spider (with 10 legs instead of the usual 8) smiling mischievously while performing an asymmetrical dance.
A subconscious analysis could easily lead us to think that the painter's little demon (represented by this obscure insect) enjoys expressing his unconscious desires through art. However, the artist regularly stated about the interpretation of his artworks: "My drawings are a source of inspiration and cannot be defined. They place us, like music, in the ambiguous realm of the indeterminate. ». (Move along, there's nothing to see!)

Salvator Rosa, The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1645
Palais Pitti, Florence, Italy

Besides being an actor, poet and musician, Salvator Rosa (1615-1673) was a very talented painter. Born in Naples, he lived in Italy all his life, and was one of the first completely independent artists. Emancipated from the influence of the Church and the royal power, he produced several artworks representative of the Romantic and Picturesque movement. The similarity between the demonic creature depicted in this 1645 artwork and the monsters of our time, which can be seen in our video games (Resident Evil...) and our series (Stranger Things...) is more than disturbing.
 So, coincidence or inspiration?


Francisco de Goya, Saturn Devouring One of his Sons, 1819-1823
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Francisco de Goya (1746-1826) was a painter and printmaker from the Romantic movement. His masterpiece consists of a series of oil paintings on the walls of his country house, Quinta del Sordo (literally the "Country House of the Deaf"), called the Black Paintings, of which this artwork is a part.
In this work, the artist was inspired by Greek mythology to represent the titan Cronos, who, to avoid the realization of a prediction that he would be dethroned by one of his sons, decided to devour them one by one at their birth.
This theme has often been taken up by major artists, but never in such a frightening way, as shown by the terrified and desperate gaze of a God who commits the irreparable.
The illness and advanced age of the painter when he produced this artwork partly explains obscure and neurotic treatment of this subject.

Francis Bacon, Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X, 1953
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa, Etats-Unis

Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is often considered as the archetype of the tortured artist of the 20th century. Hard to contradict this conception when we discover the work of this painter, whose inspiration was trapped and fed by a perpetual obsession with deformation and distortion of bodies.
This portrait of Pope Innocent X isn’t an exception to the rule: we discover a terrified, screaming man, immobilized on an armchair as if under restraint, the saffron brushstrokes evoking (willingly or unwillingly) an electric chair, far from the standards of official clerical pieces of which Velázquez's original artwork, taken up here by Bacon, is a part.

Unknown Artist, The Anguished Man, 19??
Private Collection, United States

This disturbing painting is one of the few to be considered haunted. The current owner, Sean Robinson, inherited it from his grandmother, who reportedly stored it in her attic for 25 years to "avoid being disturbed". Before she died, she’s said to have told her grandson a legend that the artist who created the artwork painted it with his blood before committing suicide.
Even more disturbing, Sean has released several videos of the artwork, where strange noises can be heard coming from the canvas. Many paranormal enthusiasts have studied this painting (Ian Lawman, John Blackbum...), without ever discovering the truth of this story.
Anyway, this artwork has something to make you shudder!

Vincent Castiglia, Stings of the Lash, 2004-2005
Private Collection, United States

We conclude this top with the most contemporary artist. We could have selected all of his artwork, but we chose this one as an illustration. Vincent Castiglia is an American painter and tattoo artist, born in Brooklyn in 1982. The originality of his artistic approach? He draws his artworks from human blood.
His very allegorical paintings are only made from blood and water, thanks to a skilful mastery of this element.

And for the most fearless among you, discover our selection of thrilling artworks that will make your blood run cold!

Happy Halloween!


Join thousands of art enthusiasts into creating exciting collections of contemporary artworks