A Brief Survey of Art History’s Most Macabre Paintings

It was today in 1793 that Girondist sympathizer Charlotte Corday assassinated French revolutionary leader and radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat while he was taking a bath. The stabbing was memorialized in Jacques-Louis David’s 1793 painting, The Death of Marat, depicting Marat as a martyr on par with the Pietàs of classical painting, but artists like Edvard Munch created a much bloodier version of the events (featured, below). Art history is full of beautifully rendered paintings depicting gruesome acts and macabre scenarios. Here are ten you won’t soon forget.


Edvard Munch, The Death of Marat, 1907

Jacques-Louis David’s famous interpretation of the death of Marat was painted in an idealized manner, further contributing to the revolutionary leader’s status as a martyr. But in 1907, troubled Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch created a frenzied interpretation of the murder, setting it in a bed. This new milieu, along with a nude figure representing Charlotte Corday, gave the work a strange sexual tone — one full of vulnerability and shame. The bloodied sheets, wild mark-making, and mottled flesh tones of Marat’s corpse (he suffered from a debilitating skin disease, which David’s painting overlooked) added a gruesome realism and frenetic energy missing from previous versions. The painting was a personal allegory, too. Munch felt betrayed by former lover Tulla Larsen, who abandoned him when he became increasingly disturbed, injuring himself in an accidental shooting.