Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.
Spooky news from the Black Country, where a ‘haunted’ painting has been scaring art lovers out of their wits. While the work in question – a vaguely impressionistic, unsigned landscape depicting a ruined castle on a rocky shoreline – looks fairly innocuous at first glance, it has reportedly provoked strange reactions from viewers. According to the Birmingham Mail, ‘scores of people’ have spotted ‘chilling images’ in the painting, including a skull, a Viking warrior and a pair of eyes. A woman is said to have fainted in front of the painting, while dogs apparently ‘become traumatised’ in front of it.
— Birmingham News (@DailyBRUM) October 14, 2017
The story, which arrives just in time for Halloween, is only the latest in a long line of ‘haunted art’ canards, the most sensational concerning a work by Bill Stoneham entitled The Hands Resist Him. Painted in the early ’70s, that painting depicts two creepy looking children standing in front of a window, behind which a dozen or so pairs of hands are seen groping around in the darkness. In 2000, it was posted for sale on eBay along with an intriguing description:
WHEN WE RECEIVED THIS PAINTING, WE THOUGHT IT WAS REALLY GOOD ART. AT THE TIME WE WONDERED A LITTLE WHY A SEEMINGLY PERFECTLY FINE PAINTING WOULD BE DISCARDED LIKE THAT. (TODAY WE DON’T !!! ) ONE MORNING OUR 4 AND 1/2 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER CLAIMED, THAT THE CHILDREN IN THE PICTURE WERE FIGHTING, AND COMING INTO THE ROOM DURING THE NIGHT.
This screed attracted reams of publicity, with the painting eventually fetching a cool $1,025. Which is where the ghostly rumblings stopped: as the work’s new owner, Kim Smith, suggested some months later, the only strange occurrence since the purchase was a deluge of emails from spiritualist cranks desperate to offer their advice.