Over the years, fans of horror have often found joy and excitement in stellar and horrific works of art. These famous dark paintings, in most cases, are a reflection of the darkness of their lives or the dark times they lived in.

Many of these paintings have gone on to inspire other artists and creators to come up with their own horrific creations across many forms of media.

Let us take a look at three important famous dark paintings, crafted by some of the most revered masters, that have taken the theme of horror in art to a whole new level.

Paul Cezanne – Pyramid of Skulls

Art enthusiasts might know the maestro of modern art Paul Cezanne for his sedate yet enlivened still-life work. Cezanne’s work, while not often in line with the artistic themes of the post-impressionist period, mostly consisted of brilliantly done still-life studies. However, the artist did manage to add undeniable horror credentials to his repertoire with the legendary Pyramid of Skulls.

famous dark painting by Cezanne

During the twilight stages of his life, Cezanne developed a fascination for death and started confronting his own mortality. In this period, he also developed a fascination of incorporating skulls in his paintings. While most of his work that features skulls do not directly focus on them, the Pyramid of Skulls is in stark contrast. Here, a pile of skulls, in various stages of age, sit huddled together front and center, with nothing much else in the frame.

Cezanne’s still-life skills translate into an incredible level of detail in the skulls. In their stark presence, viewers are confronted with the reality of death and decay and are forced to reflect on their own end times. It is a rude awakening and can transcend into a truly horrifying feeling for most who see the painting.

Frida Kahlo – Girl with Death Mask (She Plays Alone)

Painted in 1938, this masterpiece by acclaimed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is a truly horrifying part of her famous collection of 55 self-portraits. Her work in this period has reflections of a particularly turbulent time in her life, and consequently, often depicts dark and horrifying themes. This is particularly evident in her dark masterpiece, Girl with Death Mask (She Plays Alone).

famous painting by Frida Kahlo

In the picture, the artist draws herself as a young girl, standing in a large open space with hills and mounds. While the girl wears a pretty dress and carries a flower in her hand, her face is covered by a bleak skull mask, which obscured all the innocence and beauty of childhood and lends her a cold, desolate presence. To hammer home the theme, another mask is placed at her feet – the horrific face of a beast with large teeth and blank eyes.

With this painting, Kahlo instigates in her viewers not just a necessity to confront death and darkness, but also the strange foreboding of a chilling mystery. The viewers have no idea why the girl is standing alone wearing a mask with another hideous mask lying at her feet. They can only guess at the contents of a mind that projects such darkness on the canvas.


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Andy Warhol – Big Electric Chair

During the later part of the 20th century, Andy Warhol created waves with his avant-garde approach to art, pioneering the craft of painting using acrylic and silkscreen. For a long time, Warhol dealt with everyday themes and popular figures of the time in his paintings. However, things took a dark turn in the 1960s when he started creating his Death and Disaster series.

Andy Warhol electric chair

This is the time where a lot of Warhol’s work demonstrated a deep and somewhat morbid fascination with tragedy and death. The Big Electric Chair was influenced by a real-life setting, a photograph depicting the prison chamber which was seat of the much talked-about execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, notorious Soviet spies.

The painting shows a desolate prison cell with a disconnected electric chair that has evidently seen some recent use. The faded sepia tones add to the obvious emptiness of most of the frame in lending the painting a tone of hopeless despair. The silkscreen method brings added realism to the frame and viewers are not spared any detail – including the disconnected cables and the hard-worn look of the device of death.

Art Comes from Dark Places

Viewers cannot help but marvel at the dark places in the minds of these artists that gave rise to these masterpieces. On the other hand, they are forced to think quickly about the darkness in their own lives and the imminent reality of eventual death. These powerful and famous dark paintings, therefore, make an impact in more ways than one and make viewers uncomfortable and uneasy.

While this is just a smattering of a whole plethora of famous dark paintings that have terrorized viewers the world over, these paintings are representative of the power darkness can wield if featured prominently in art.

Last Updated on December 3, 2021.

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