Ghostly Art at the CMA

The days are growing chillier, the nights longer—it’s almost time for Halloween! Give yourself a treat (or a fright!) and get in the spirit of the season with these haunting works on view in the CMA’s galleries.


Visit gallery 207 to see The Race Track (Death on a Pale Horse). Grim and gloomy, this painting depicts a scythe-wielding skeleton astride a galloping steed. Albert Pinkham Ryder’s painting draws on a sad and unfortunate event in the artist’s life: his friend committed suicide after losing $500—his life savings—betting on a horse race. 

In the same gallery, check out Memento Mori: “To This Favor” by William Harnett. A skull, a burned candle, and a spent hourglass—all symbols that evoke death—are spooky reminders of mortality. Harnett also included a line from Hamlet’s famous graveyard scene on the dangling cover of a book. 

Make a stop in gallery 217 to see Salvator Rosa’s Scenes of Witchcraft, a set of four tondos (round paintings) depicting witches chanting invocations and cavorting with all manner of ghastly creatures at four different times of day. Inspired by the interest in sorcery and spellcasting that swept across Europe in the 1500s, Rosa explored the subject of witches through his paintings, drawings, and poetry. 

Next, head to gallery 219 in the east wing to see Ruin by the Sea, a moody painting by Arnold Böcklin with stormy skies, rough seas, and a crumbling stone villa. Behind the walls of the ruin stand looming cypress trees. A symbol of mourning for the ancient Greeks and Romans, cypress trees are still often planted in cemeteries.

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