13 Disturbing Works of Art by Female Artists
1. Artemesia Gentileschi – Judith and her Maidservant
The most remarked-upon absence from the previous list was Artemesia Gentileschi’s version of Judith Slaying Holofernes (as opposed to the Caravaggio, Judith Beheading Holofernes, that we featured). Feel free to click on each and decide which you prefer! In the meantime, this is an equally disturbing follow-up piece to Gentileschi’s depiction, showing Judith and her maid’s escape from Holofernes’ quarters with his severed, bleeding head in a basket.
2. Frida Kahlo – Without Hope
One of the greatest painters of the 20th century, Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo is most notable for her self-portraits. This 1945 piece, Without Hope, is no exception. Frequently ill from surgeries and bouts of pain stemming from a bus accident in her teens, Kahlo was no stranger to hospitals. Microorganisms color her bedsheet, her world is featureless, simultaneous day and night, and her easel is overtaken by disturbing apparitions.
3. Lavinia Fontana – Portrait of Antonietta Gonzalez
This particular painting is not so much creepy as it is bizarre. It seems almost like a strange joke played by artist Lavinia Fontana on an unsuspecting portrait model. It is a real portrait of a real girl, however. Antonietta Gonzalez was the daughter of Petrus Gonzales, and both (as well as Antonietta’s siblings) suffered from hypertrichosis, commonly known as “werewolf syndrome.” Happily, instead of being ostracized, they were all welcomed into the court of King Henry II of France, highly educated, and well-respected.
4. Rosa Bonheur – The Duel
Rosa Bonheur was one of the great painters of the French animalier style popular in the 19th century. It focused on doing one thing and doing it well: creating realistic paintings of animals. Bonheur, in particular, specialized in farm animals, and this piece shows the dark side of that world. Most interesting is its title, The Duel, evoking the traditional duels high-class males fought for women’s affections throughout history.
5. Paula Rego – War
A far more modern piece than previous entries on the list, this painting was only created just under a decade ago, in 2003. Paula Rego, the artist, says that she was inspired by a photograph taken during the second Iraqi war. While a photograph of this sort might be a common sight in the news, replacing the victims with rabbits, a symbol of purity, gives the work a deeply disturbing angle.
6. Herrad of Landsberg – Hell, from Hortus deliciarum
The oldest artist on this list, Herrad of Landsberg was a 12th century nun famous for her illuminated manuscript, Hortus deliciarum (Garden of Delights). Considered by many scholars to be the first encyclopedia written by a woman, it contains illustrated guides to instruct novice nuns about various teachings and philosophies that the convent followed. This particularly dark illustration is, obviously, from the entry on Hell. (Larger version)
7. Josefa de Obidos – The Sacrificial Lamb
This painting, one of the still-life pieces for which Josefa de Obidos is most renowned, may not appear all that creepy upon initial inspection. Make sure you notice the lamb’s bound feet and despondent expression, however. Those details, combined with the title, The Sacrificial Lamb, tell a very disturbing story about this lamb (traditionally symbolic of innocence) and its future.
8. Giulia Lama – The Martyrdom of Saint Eurosia
Historical accounts of beheadings, if you haven’t gathered, were very popular subjects for a great number of artists. Instead of Judith and Holofernes this time (though Giulia Lama did one of those as well, albeit much less gruesome than others), we have the decapitation of Saint Eurosia, patron saint of the city of Jaca, Spain. According to tradition, she was a princess forced into a marriage with a prince of the invading Moors. When she attempted to flee, the Moorish people hunted her down and executed her.
9. Camille Claudel – Clotho
This sculpture, Clotho, is named after one of the three fates in Greek mythology. Clotho and her sisters, Lachesis and Atropos, determined the length and nature of a human’s life. Reportedly, this work was the result of Camille Claudel and her mentor, the famous sculptor Rodin, deciding to create works based on the forms of elderly women. Another version of the piece, made solely of the torso part of the overall work, is just as ghoulish on its own.
10. Evelyn De Morgan – The Field of the Slain
Although this might look like something painted during the days of the Renaissance, it was actually created in 1916 as a response to the first World War. Its artist, Evelyn De Morgan, was a follower of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, which attempted to revive the style of the early Italian masters. A Spiritualist, and thus a firm believer in the afterlife, De Morgan made this representation of the Angel of Death collecting souls to take to the other side.
11. Kathe Kollwitz – The Last Thing
This is another response to World War I, albeit from a far different perspective. After the end of the Great War, Germany experienced huge economic difficulties. Artist Kathe Kollwitz, a German native, saw the desperation and hopelessness prevalent in her fellow Germans. This woodcut, titled The Last Thing, is a grim depiction of what many elderly Germans saw as their only escape.
12. Maruja Mallo – Antro de Fosiles
The third and final war-inspired piece on this list, Antro de Fosiles was actually considered lost for decades before it reappeared in 2010 and was purchased by the Guillermo de Osma Gallery in Madrid, Spain. Artist Maruja Mallo, a friend of Salvador Dali, was also horrified by war-torn Europe, but despite this painting’s appearance, it is not a statement about the use of atomic weapons. It was actually created in 1930, 15 years before their first use.
13. Remedios Varo – Fenomeno
One of only a few female surrealist painters, Remedios Varo’s works are particularly dark and dreamlike. A penchant toward mysticism and fringe psychology in her personal life deeply influenced her works, which typically feature unusual geometric shapes, strange symbols, and beings that seem to be cobbled together from various objects and animals.
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