Upon first entering my home, many will find my selection of art rather strange, or even lacking a general theme or genre. Among the paintings that adorn the walls, you’ll see everything from reprints of classical pieces, to original works by various artists depicting grand sailing vessels and epic battles, modern impressionist pieces, wildlife scenes, and even faerie gatherings.

That’s right, my living room features a rather large painting where a group of faeries are gathered around a small pond, which I’ve monuted just adjacent to the entryway. What is less obvious to most about the purpose of this image (aside from a possible interest in faeries?) is that it is actually an original painting my mother, a very talented artist, procured more than a decade ago. The painting was featured in the family home for a number of years, until my mother eventually decided to ask if I would care to feature it on my wall for a while. Thus, the painting and its faerie folk now take residence within my living room.

So while the focus of my interest doesn’t have to do with faeries in particular, there are a number of classic fantasy images that I’ve nonetheless taken a liking to over the years, primarily because they have a slightly creepy feel to them. Edward Robert Hughes’ famous “Oh What’s That in the Hollow” (featured above) has been a personal favorite for a number of years, ever since I bought a paperback edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that featured the image on its cover. While it may not be that the image depicts an actual vampire, the slightly macabre overtone of the man with thorns and dog-roses growing over him did serve as a nod at a classic poem by Christina Rossetti called ‘Amor Mundi’, published in 1865, which features the lines, “Oh, what’s that in the hollow, so pale I quake to follow? Oh, that’s a thin dead body which waits the eternal term’.” With it’s haunting undertones that bear the mild musk of death, apparently the publishers must have thought it would also serve as a good representation for Dracula, too.

Edward Robert Hughes was known for a procuring a number of classic images, a majority of them depicting nymphs and faeries, as well as other classic fantasy themes. Below is another of Hughes’ paintings that, in addition to being among my slightly off-kilter personal favorites, also offers a bit of a winter theme, in keeping with the season. It is appropriately titled “Heart of Snow,” and bears the curious dichotomy of a thinly-covered damsel lying in an otherwise quite unforgiving frozen landscape:

Another artist whose wintery-themed art bears a subtlety to its macabre feel is Caspar David Friedrich, whose “Winter Landscape” (1811) now resides in the National Gallery in London. Earlier this week, The Guardian featured Friedrich’s painting, with the following commentary:

“At first glance nothing could be more Christmassy than Casper David Friedrich

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Micah Hanks

Author: Micah Hanks

Micah Hanks is a writer, researcher, and podcaster. His interests include areas of history, science, archaeology, philosophy, and the study of anomalous phenomena in nature. He can be reached at info@micahhanks.com.

10 Replies to “Classic Art That Gives You The Creeps: A Few Favorites with a Fortean Feel

  1. Rachmaninoff’s opus 29 Isle of the Dead is a symphonic description of Boecklin’s painting. I think you can hear the work on Youtube.

    Have you ever gone to Epilogue.net? It’s a fantasy/horror/scify art site. I like it since the works posted there are vetted unlike deviantART. http://www.gfxartist.com/ is another good vetted site for fantasy and graphic artists.

    Check out Donato Giancola too at http://www.donatoart.com/

  2. In the Met in NYC there is a painting of Joan of Arc with ghostly figures in the backround that she seems to be hearing. It’s one of my favorites. It is cool creepy erie but i get what she went through kind of painting.

  3. http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_BVbcNcXrio4/TSB5UpoXpsI/AAAAAAAABXw/eMFKgYwQRFM/s1600/John%2BWilliam%2BWaterhouse%2BCirce%2BInvidiosa.jpg

    It’s hard to find a picture of this online where the color and lighting do it justice, but this is one of my all time favorites. Certainly a fine example of sinister subtlety. So, maybe the giant bowl of lime jello is less than subtle, but Circe’s expression is what makes this piece. Not to mention, what’s left of Scylla beneath her…

  4. I was linked to this page from my daily forteana news site; the Daily Grail. I’m often deterred from fantasy art because I feel like much of it is fantastic without anything else going on behind the picture. These pieces on the other hand I quite enjoy. They may be classified fantasy, but they are not nearly as overt or explicit as I am used to in the genre. Thanks for the turn on!

  5. I can’t express enough how glad I am that people’s views on these paintings have been expressed so fondly in this forum… the subtlety I mention regarding these pieces is key to what makes them so unique, in my opinion (in other words, they hint at what my friend Mike Clelland calls “The Hidden Experience”, rather than being overt, tacky paintings with Bigfoot and Nessie splashing around together at a Fortean Summer Camp). Usually these days, so many people are relegated to the point-click-instant-gratification mode of thought about things… that all of you appreciate these items brings me not only joy, but enthusiasm. And Salamandra, I LOVE the paining you linked of Circe… another damned good painting that very well could have made this list.

    Hey folks, are there others? I’d love to see what other favorites pop up in this comment thread…

  6. Well, coming back to Salamandra’s suggestion, this other painting by Waterhouse is kinda creepy in a very subtle way. The water nymphs look so innocent and inviting, but the viewer is expecting they’ll drag that poor bastard to a watery death any minute now.

    This other painting might fit the category too, although I admit it is not as subtle as the other examples. Here the potency of the scene is not brought by the dead corpse in the foreground, but by the despairing regret in the eyes of Ivan the Terrible, communicating the ultimate realization that he has finally gone to the last straw of insanity, by killing his own son.

    And how about Picasso’s Guernica? I love the story of how some Nazi soldiers came to his studio and asked him “so you were the one who painted Guernica?” and he answered “No, you did.” 😉

  7. I just stumbled across this blog while hunting for a painting I once saw – can anyone help? I think I saw it in Leeds but can’t be sure. It was a large oil painting , probably Victorian, of a frozen landscape with 2 or 3 girls floating horizontally (one in foreground, the others behind) apparently sleeping. My description is a test of 30 year-old memory… but a friend tells me he thinks he saw it too. Does anyone have a clue what or where it is or who might have painted it?
    Happy New Year!

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