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10 Weird And Unsettling Discoveries About Dead Artists

by Morris M.
fact checked by Jamie Frater

Every so often, a great artist dies before they can publish all their work. Usually, this means a posthumous book of essays, portraits, letters, or diaries. In extreme cases, it means entire albums or novels. It’s kind of a farewell, a parting gift for hard-core fans to remind them of what they’ve lost.

Only it doesn’t always turn out like that. Sometimes, the work an artist leaves behind gives you an unwelcome look inside their psyche. This sort of work ranges from amusingly perverted to downright creepy.

NOTE: Some of the external sites linked below are really, really NSFW. Consider yourselves warned.

10L.S. Lowry Drew Domination Porn


Photo via WIkimedia

Even if you don’t know his name, you’ll recognize L.S. Lowry’s paintings. Featuring “matchstick men” in industrial landscapes, they were a massive hit in his home country of Britain, elevating Lowry to the status of national treasure. Quiet, friendly, and seemingly sexless, the taciturn northerner became the epitome of restrained Englishness.

When Lowry died in 1976, he left behind a pile of notes, drawings, and loose scraps of paper that nearly filled his house. It took until the 21st century for experts to finally sift through them all. What they found was unexpected. In a series of drawings from the 1970s, Lowry had depicted young girls tied up, weeping in stocks, getting whipped and otherwise dominated by smirking women.

While the pictures weren’t pornographic in the classic sense, they were definitely kinky. One in particular showed a large-breasted girl forced into a cleavage-revealing corset. Another showed the same girl with her breasts exposed, weeping in fear. When the new sketches were finally exhibited in 2013, the curators said they showed a darker, obsessional side to Lowry.

9Percy Grainger Was A White Supremacist


Photo credit: Annie Beard

Melbourne-born composer Percy Grainger was a titan of 20th-century music. His stuff has been covered by everyone from Leopold Stokowski to Fozzie Bear. He was also a rampant egotist who considered himself better than Mozart and openly indulged in S&M. But nothing can compare to the contents of his personal letters, published after his death. They revealed Grainger had a love affair with white supremacism.

Aside from his open support for the Nazi party and hatred of Jews, Grainger’s letters revealed he became a composer solely to preserve the musical accomplishments of the Nordic race. His obsession ran so deep he criticized colleagues who publicly performed “non-Nordic” music and even invented his own version of English that adhered to Scandinavian grammar rules instead of Latin. Correspondents would get invited to “tone-feasts” instead of concerts, asked to evaluate his “tone-art” (music), and have inquiries made about their “call-to-mindment” (memories).

Grainger also had a strong obsession with blue eyes, linking them to racial purity, and expressed views on intermarrying that could tactfully be described as unenlightened. Finally, he also boasted about his S&M fantasies in his made-up language, making for some unusual reading.

8William Golding Tried To Rape A 15-Year-Old


The author of Lord of the Flies, William Golding is one of the few novelists to write a book kids enjoy studying at school. He was also an alcoholic and frequently battled internal demons, some of which may have been connected to the time he tried to rape a 15-year-old.

In 1930, Golding was an 18-year-old student at Oxford, making money by giving piano lessons. One of his students was a girl called Dora, who Golding described in a posthumous memoir as “already sexy as an ape” at age 14. Thinking she wanted “heavy sex,” he claimed he one day attacked her, only to have her fight him off and run away.

If the story ended there, it would be unpleasant. But it gets weirder. Two years later, Golding and the girl met and had sex in a field. It just so happened that she and Golding’s brother had previously had sex in the same field, and Golding became convinced that she had lured him there so his father could watch both brothers having sex through his binoculars. He considered it a revenge attack for his attempted rape and claimed Dora was “depraved.”

7Osamu Tezuka Drew Sexy Mouse Porn


Photo credit: Asahi Shimbun

The “godfather of anime,” Osamu Tezuka is directly responsible for every great modern Japanese cartoon from Akira to Attack on Titan. His 1963 series Astroboy pioneered every single trope we associate with anime today. He also had a slightly peculiar pastime. Tezuka liked drawing sexy mouse porn.

When Tezuka died in 1989, he left behind a locked desk without a key. It wasn’t until the 21st century that anyone opened it, at which point they found piles of drawings—including a large number featuring a lady mouse with prominent breasts in a variety of sexy poses. While the pictures were far from the worst you might find in an anime animator’s stash, they were still erotic enough to classify as porn. Many of the images focused exclusively on the rodent-lady’s breasts, while the rest involved loving depictions of her shapely posterior.

Tezuka’s daughter Rumiko, who found the sketches, acknowledged they probably had an erotic purpose. However, she also said she found the mouse-lady “cute.”

6Eric Gill Had Sex With His Dog


Photo credit: Andrew Dunn

When he died in 1940, Eric Gill was one of Britain’s most celebrated artists. Aside from designing the still-popular Gill Sans typeface, Gill was a prolific sculptor who won commissions from everyone from the BBC to the Catholic Church. He also had a whole host of incredibly dark secrets he recorded meticulously in his diary. Among them were abusing his underage daughters, sleeping with his sisters, and frequently having sex with the family dog.

The revelations came out in 1989, when Fiona MacCarthy analyzed Gill’s diaries for a new biography. Rather than be discreet, Gill had openly recorded every detail of his perverted encounters in clinical detail. One entry described an encounter with a family member, followed by the terse line: “continued experiment with dog after and discovered that a dog will join with a man.”

The diaries also revealed a dark dimension to some of Gill’s sculptures. A semi-pornographic one in the Tate Britain known as F—king was discovered to be of Gill’s younger sister Gladys and her husband. At the time it was made, Gill was having an incestuous fling with Gladys. Sketches he made of his prepubescent daughter bathing also turned out to have been done around the time he was abusing her.

5Stieg Larsson Believed Some Nutty Conspiracy Theories

Stieg Larsson: Behind “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

Unlike most on our list, Swedish writer Stieg Larsson was dead before he was famous. His trilogy of thrillers had only just got the green light from publishers when he died of a heart attack at age 50. Four years later, he was a household name. Four years after that, journalist Nick Cohen for the Observer got hold of his obscure, Swedish-only book on honor killings. It revealed a side to Larsson that went beyond creative.

When Sweden was rocked by the murder of two Kurdish girls by members of their community, Larsson claimed the media uproar was a front to distract from the “patriarchal structures of Swedish society.” He also accused anti–honor killing campaigners of being racists who wanted to tar all immigrants with the same brush. Finally, he ended his rant claiming Swedish society was preparing to unleash “special operations forces, which are ready to begin the ethnic cleansing.”

Other mainstream outlets have since gotten hold of Larsson’s book in English and have given it favorable reviews.

4Philip Larkin Wrote Some Really Horrible Things


Photo credit: Fay Gordon

A quiet English librarian who spent his days pottering around Hull, Philip Larkin happened to be the greatest poet of his generation. His humane and grounded verse won him admirers across the world. It also disguised a nastier side. In his private correspondence to Kingsley Amis, Larkin wrote some rather vile things.

In one representative extract, he talked about visiting a hospital and remarked “staffed ENTIRELY by wogs, cheerful and incompetent.” Another declared “I find the state of the nation quite terrifying. In 10 years’ time we shall all be cowering under our beds as hordes of blacks steal anything they can lay their hands on.” Another suggested a winning election pledge would be to “kick the n—ers out.”

When he wasn’t race baiting, Larkin was regaling Kingsley with his thoughts on women. One letter raged, “Don’t you think it’s ABSOLUTELY SHAMEFUL that men have to pay for women without BEING ALLOWED TO SHAG the women afterward AS A MATTER OF COURSE?” Another talked about Larkin’s fantasies of watching “schoolgirls suck each other off while you whip them.”

Unsurprisingly, the posthumous letters nearly sank Larkin’s reputation. However, these days, the old curmudgeon is being rehabilitated. It’s now thought the letters were largely the fault of Kingsley Amis egging Larkin on, rather than the poet’s deep-seated beliefs. At least, we hope that’s the case.

3Henry Darger Was A Repressed Pedophile Or Serial Killer


Photo credit: David Berglund

A lowly janitor with zero friends and no family, Henry Darger died alone and unloved in 1973. Then his landlord discovered he’d spent 40-plus years working on a gigantic illustrated book. Depicting a fictional war between a crowd of schoolgirls and fallen Catholic monsters, it was alternately strange, beautiful, and deeply inspiring. Darger was reclaimed as the ultimate outsider artist, and his paintings were displayed in galleries across the world.

It was only afterward that people began to examine his art and life more closely. What they found was a personality less suited to art and more suited to a serial killer.

Darger’s drawings featured many images of naked young girls being disemboweled, decapitated, and violently tortured. Page upon endless page of his nine-million-word novel contain descriptions of children being forced into cannibalism, having their tongues cut out, and being beaten with their own intestines. He also drew several of his young girls with prominent penises, leading one critic to call him “the Poussin of pedophillia.”

Others have gone further still. John MacGregor, an expert on the art of the clinically insane, believes Darger was a kind of repressed serial killer. It’s now known he kept a shrine to a murdered Chicago schoolgirl. When he lost a photo he had of her, he begged God to return it. When He didn’t reply, Darger sat down and immediately wrote gruesome execution scenes killing his child characters as punishment.

Unlike Eric Gill, there’s no evidence Darger ever acted on his urges. Still, they give his work a dark, creepy edge at odds with the bright colors and innocent main characters.

2Klaus Kinski Assaulted His Daughters


Photo credit: Georges Biard

German actor Klaus Kinski was famous for two things: being completely crazy and nearly being murdered by Werner Herzog during an altercation on set. While everyone who worked with him admitted Kinski had a terrible dark side, most thought it was merely the result of his rampant egomania. Over 20 years after he died, that all changed. In an interview with Stern magazine, his eldest daughter revealed the actor had started sexually abusing her when she was five.

When the revelations broke, they retroactively made some of Kinski’s work deeply unsettling. In a 1977 performance, he made comments about the “absurdity” of sending a grown man who sleeps with a 12-year-old to jail. In his autobiography, he alluded to the number of women he slept with who might be considered too young. They also gave some startling context to an interview his youngest daughter gave in 2010, in which she expressed her relief on hearing that her father had died. Like British pedophile Jimmy Savile, Kinski was apparently quite open about his predilections. It’s just a shame no one thought to question them until he was long-dead.

1Multiple Artists May Have Murdered


Photo credit: Name

While all the above artists have been conclusively shown to have had weird aspects to their personalities, there’s another category out there. Many artists may have killed people, but we lack the evidence to say for certain.

In 1999, a book by criminologist James Tully made the startling claim that Charlotte Bronte may have murdered her own sisters. Emily, Anne, and their brother Branwell all died in remarkably quick succession, followed by Charlotte a year later. Tully claimed the jealous Charlotte poisoned them with the help of her father’s curate Arthur Bell Nicholls and was then in turn poisoned by Nicholls after she married him. Although Tully was an expert on 19th-century poisons, the lack of any hard or physical evidence meant his claims were far from conclusive.

Charlotte Bronte isn’t the only one to face such accusations. Walter Richard Sickert, a 19th-century British artist, has been labeled as a possible Jack the Ripper candidate, based on a series of paintings he made that look eerily like crime scene photos of the Ripper’s victims. Lewis Carroll has also been named as a potential Ripper suspect, although his accuser’s method (searching for confessions hidden in his books as anagrams) was far from convincing.

Go looking, and you’ll find dozens of similar stories of varying degrees of plausibility—such as the recent one declaring that mathematician Johannes Kepler poisoned his mentor. Did some of our greatest artists take murderous secrets to the grave? Judging by this list, we wouldn’t put it past them.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Morris M.

Morris M. is Listverse's official news human, trawling the depths of the media so you don't have to. He avoids Facebook and Twitter like the plague.