Thursday, October 10, 2013

Halloween 2013: Urban Legend Week: The Haunted Painting

"The Hands Resist Him"
~by Marie Robinson

Art in its painted medium is one of the oldest and more honest forms of expression. It requires the blood, sweat, and tears of the creator, so it’s easy to imagine that some of the artist is left behind once the painting is finished. How much power does a painting hold?

Have you ever found yourself unsettled by a portrait? The eyes of the subject may seem to follow you as you pass, their gaze may feel a little too real. A particular urban legend takes the unearthliness of a certain piece of art and taking it to the next level—a haunted painting.

There are two such real-life examples I am familiar with. The first concerns a painting by artist Bill Stoneham originally done in 1972. The painting, called The Hands Resist Him, features two figures standing in front of a glass door. The two figures are a young boy and a life-size doll with a dry cell battery and a stringy mass of wires clenched in her hands. Pressed against the glass door behind them are a dozen disembodied hands. To be honest, the piece is pretty creepy on its own, even without being dubbed, “the eBay Haunted Painting”.

The legend starts with the painting being purchased by actor John Marley (The Godfather). After his death the painting was found by a couple in an old brewery. The couple later decides to sell the painting on eBay, claiming that the artwork is cursed. In their product description the couple goes on to tell that the characters in the haunted painting moved about at night, and sometimes even stepped out of the frame into the room. People claimed that they felt sick or uncomfortable when they viewed the painting and eventually sold for $1,025. Nothing strange was reported after that.

"The Crying Boy"
Another “haunted” painting is actually a series of different versions of pieces by artist Bruno Amadio that are all recognized as The Crying Boy. The legend of the paintings being cursed comes from a British reporter claiming that copies of The Crying Boy  were often found at the sites of burned houses, the painting remaining unscathed by the flames. He went on to write of fires of people who owned a copy of the painting in their home. The rumor became so believed that readers of The Sun would send in their copy of the painting to be included in mass bonfires.

The 2007 Vietnamese horror film Muoi: The Legend of a Portrait is about Yun-hee (Jo An), a writer who is looking for the topic of her next book. She discovers the legend of a girl named Muoi who was betrayed in life and murdered. Now her vengeful spirit haunts her portrait. As Yun-hee delves deeper and deeper into the legend, she finds the story bleeding into her own life.

Dorian Gray
Perhaps the most famous example of a haunted portrait is Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Although it has been made into dozens of adaptations, the basic Faustian core of the story always remains the same. A young and beautiful man, Dorian Gray, has his portrait painted by the artist Basil Hallward. Convinced that beauty and indulgence are the only things worth living for, Gray sells his soul so that the picture may age while he remains young. The first film adaptation of Dorian Gray dates back to 1910, the most recent being the 2009 film by Oliver Parker (who has acted in a few of Clive Barker’s films), starring Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, and Rebecca Hall.

And we mustn’t forget about Ghostbusters II (1989), which involves the haunted painting of Vigo the Carpathian, who possesses Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) so that he may obtain Dana’s (Sigourney Weaver) baby and regain life.

So next time you stop by your local art gallery, look a little deeper into the eyes of a portrait and see if someone stares back out at you.

1 comment:

Joseph J. Patchen said...

Very cool. A lot of 'haunted' items are making their way onto eBay. Why take the chance?