For many, the ultimate purpose of art is to create joy by producing beauty. However, masked behind the striking façade of many artworks there lies a darkness. With this thought in mind, here is the tale of five artists whose propensity for evil is as great as their undoubted creative talent.



 ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Caravaggio

Above: ‘David with the Head of Goliath’. Note that the painting depicts a young Caravaggio holding the head of an older Caravaggio. Image by Katexic Publications

Caravaggio’s work had a profound influence on many generations of painters because of its innovative use of Chiaroscuro tones, which provide a strong contrast between light and dark. However, the light and dark shades that characterised Caravaggio's paintings also perfectly mirrored his personality.

On one hand, you had the man that became the protégé of a cardinal, who could comfortably mix with the highest echelons of Italian society. On the other, you had a man that would often keep company with vagrants and roam the streets armed with a sword and dagger. 

As his fame and ego grew in tandem, the darker side of Caravaggio’s personality started to become prominent. And as a result of his trigger-hair temper, he was repeatedly arrested for various misdemeanours – from slashing the cloak of a rival to throwing a plate of artichokes at a waiter.

Inevitably, during one such altercation, Caravaggio ended up killing another man during a fight in a Piazza. While on the run, he painted a series of works that seemed to reflect his guilt, including his famed self-portrait as the severed head of Goliath.


Richard Dadd

‘The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke’ by Richard Dadd

Above: ‘The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke’ by Richard Dadd, which is currently on loan to Watts Gallery, Compton. Image by The Public Domain Review

Born in 1817, Richard Dadd was an English painter of the Victorian era, who won acclaim for his depictions of fairies and other supernatural objects. During his time studying at the Royal Academy of Arts, Dadd founded The Clique – a group of British artists that included William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg and others.

In July of 1842, Dadd accompanied a crew led by Sir Thomas Phillips as a draftsman on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Southern Syria and finally Egypt. Towards the end of the trip, Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change. After his condition was originally diagnosed as sunstroke, Dadd started to become violent and declared himself under the direct influence of the Egyptian God Osiris.    

Upon his return to England in the spring of 1843, Dadd was, unsurprisingly, diagnosed to be of unsound mind and body. In a bid to help Dadd get better, his family took him to the village of Cobham to recuperate. However, after becoming convinced that his father was the devil in disguise, Dadd killed him and fled for France.

While trying to reach Paris, Dadd attempted to kill a tourist with a razor, but was fortunately overpowered by the police. After confessing to killing his father, the authorities returned Dadd to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital and later Broadmoor hospital.


Walter Sickert

‘Jack the Ripper's Bedroom’ by Walter Richard Sickert

Above: ‘Jack the Ripper's Bedroom’ by Walter Richard Sickert. Image from Wikipedia

Born in Munich, Germany, Walter Richard Sickert was a painter and printmaker, who spent a long spell working in Victorian London as a member of the Camden Town Group. During this time, he became an important influencer of British styles of avant-garde and a prominent figure in the transition from Impressionism to Modernism.

Seen as an eccentric, Sickert’s work included portraits of renowned personalities. However, during his time in London, his favourite subjects became ordinary people, and he often braved the censure of the Victorian period to paint nudes and seedy nightlife scenes. 

Another of Sickert’s keen interests were the crimes of Jack the Ripper, who was terrorising London during the period of his stay. He is even believed to have lodged in a room reputedly frequented by the serial killer, where he painted a picture entitled ‘Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom’.

Years after Sickert’s death however, three books have been written and published that claim Sickert was Jack the Ripper or his accomplice. It is important to note there was no mention of Sickert being a suspect in the Ripper crimes while he was alive, and many historians have been quick to rubbish these claims. Nonetheless, the books and the theory behind Sickert’s potential double identity remain fascinating.


Benvenuto Cellini

 Metalwork by Benvenuto Cellini

Above: Metalwork by Benvenuto Cellini. Image by Fabio Venni

For many, Benvenuto Cellini is one of the best artists in precious and base metals of all time. In fact, his contemporary and fellow Florence-based artist, Michelangelo, once wrote to Cellini to tell him that he was the greatest goldsmith ever.

However, Cellini’s talent did not stop him from being a man that killed repeatedly and without remorse. First of all, he killed his brother’s murderer by driving a long and twisted dagger through the man’s shoulder. Then, after forming a taste for bloodshed, he also killed a rival goldsmith and shot dead an innkeeper in the city of Florence.

Despite this long list of offences, Cellini escaped being executed for his crimes because of the simple fact that his work was so admired throughout the city. Furthermore, Cellini has a statue erected in his honour, on the Ponte Vecchio Bridge that crosses the River Arno in the heart of Florence.


Charles Bronson   

Charles Bronson, prisoner and artist

Above: The movie ‘Bronson’ is about the famous prisoner and artist Charles Bronson (real name Michael Gordon Peterson). Image by Mikey

Thanks to a mammoth rap sheet that includes brutal attacks on prison officers and fellow inmates, Charles Bronson has earned his reputation as ‘the most violent prisoner in Britain’. His fearsome status has even spawned a film based on his life, entitled ‘Bronson’ and starring Tom Hardy.

Yet despite his dark character, Bronson, who is currently serving a life sentence at Wakefield Prison, likes to show off his artistic side. To this end, he has produced a huge number of paintings, drawings and poetry while serving time at her Majesty’s pleasure. Moreover, his work has won countless awards, been exhibited around the world and, on occasion, has fetched thousands when sold under the hammer at auction.

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