To help you get into the Halloween spirit, we searched for some of the scariest paintings in the history of art. Let’s see if you can control your screams… Or not!

With Halloween knocking on our doors, we understand people are eagerly looking for some chills and thrills that come with the season. You don’t need to go any farther than your favourite art museums to get those thrills and chills. Confused about why we’re saying that? Well, art isn’t just picturesque scenes depicting natural beauty, historic buildings, or otherwise charmingly bucolic scenes, it can also be hellish and grotesque, and reveal humanity’s depravity. Art can inspire, elate and move the viewer, but it can also unsettle and terrify the viewer. The world of art has some truly cerebral, attractive, and ageless art pieces under its name, but it also has some extremely grotesque pieces that provide insight into the depths of humanity’s suffering and fear. In fact, some of the best and most thought-provoking works till today have been responsible for plundering the darkest depths of the imagination, and dealing with the gloomy recesses of the human condition and humanity’s depravity. While we’re unsure that you’ll want to permanently display these fantastical depictions of hellish and gothic grotesquery with their gruesome motifs and dramatic compositions, these still make for a creative way to get into the holiday spirit. So, here is a collection of some of art history’s scariest masterpieces. You’re going to get some serious thrills, that’s a promise!


scary painting

Saturn Devouring His Son – Fransisco Goya

Francisco Goya’s famous painting titled Saturn Devouring His Son, originally adorned the walls of the house he inhabited and later came to be known as the Black Paintings. This name was given to the paintings due to the number of dark pigments and blacks used by the artist as well as the sombre nature of the subject matter. The paintings were later on transferred to canvas after the painter’s death and were donated to the State before being sent to the Prado Museum where they’ve been on display since 1889. The painting of Saturn devouring his sons is surreal and grotesque and causes strong emotions to arise in the viewer. In ancient Roman myth, a prophecy was foretold that one of Saturn’s sons would usurp his throne. To prevent the prophecy from being fulfilled, Saturn devoured each of his children the minute each of them came into the world. This legend is what Goya has so viscerally depicted in this work. Several psychoanalysts have attempted to decipher the inspiration behind the grimness of the painting, one of which postulates that it might actually be a result of Goya’s own fear of ageing. Although, it doesn’t matter how you interpret it, because whichever way you see it, it is a startling and ghoulish work that will give you the chills.


scary painting

The Nightmare – Henry Fuseli

If the copy of the painting was hung in Sigmund Freud’s apartment, it definitely dealt with some disturbing themes! Depicting the worst dream in art and by far the most famous, The Nightmare seems to have been painted with the sole mission of causing nightmares. An archetype that outclassed Freud himself, the painting depicts the themes of bestiality, voyeurism, and murder, and Fuseli’s metaphor for the painting: nightmares as a nocturnal violation. Fuseli has managed to conjure up a terrifying image full of mystery and panic, that has a vague and disturbing familiarity about it. There is an overt eroticism that combines with the palpable terror of the scene that both captivates and horrifies the viewer. The painting was initially exhibited at the Royal Academy of London in 1782 and was reproduced as an engraving. The painting depicts a lady deep in slumber, arms flung beneath her, a devilish, animalistic troll – the embodiment of a nightmare – crouching upon her chest, and is watched over by a wild-eyed stallion. There is something so incontrovertibly creepy about this painting that even the bravest of the viewers would be thoroughly unsettled by it.


scary painting

Picture of Dorian Gray – Ivan Albright

The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of Oscar Wilde’s most renowned books, and is a story of a man discarding his conscience to keep his youth and beauty. A portrait of the protagonist starts to decay to depict the true nature of the man while he stays young and attractive. This portrait was actually executed by Chicago artist Ivan Albright for the 1945 movie adaptation of the novel. The painting captures Gray, the protagonist’s decaying state due to his diminishing morality and almost-dead conscience, warning humanity of the deadly consequences of losing one’s moral values. Albright’s well-established reputation for capturing the macabre made him the perfect choice for creating this horrific image that both attracts and horribly repulses the viewers. The painting caused quite a stir as it was depicted in vivid Technicolor in a black-and-white film and when it was finally exhibited at the Art Institute, the museum reported large crowds flocking to see the painting. The painting is lurid and horrific, bringing up some serious emotions in the viewer.