10 Unintentionally Horrifying Statues of Famous People

Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

Having a statue erected in your likeness sounds like it would be an honor. But when the end result leaves you looking terrifying for all eternity, it's worth considering that sometimes it's not the thought that counts. Soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo learned that lesson the hard way back in March when a bust made in his not-so-likeness was unveiled at Madeira International Airport, to celebrate the airport's new name: Aeroporto Cristiano Ronaldo. Fortunately for Ronaldo, a new and improved bust was just revealed:

Not every celebrity has been so lucky.

1. LUCILLE BALL // CELORON, NEW YORK

This statue in the beloved comedian's hometown became a source of rancor when it was first erected in 2009. "Scary Lucy," as she quickly became known, even inspired an online campaign "We Love Lucy! Get Rid of this Statue." As it turns out, everyone thought the statue was an abomination—even the man responsible. In 2015, artist Dave Poulin issued a public apology saying, "I take full responsibility for 'Scary Lucy,' though by no means was that my intent or did I wish to disparage in any way the memories of the iconic Lucy image." Earlier this year, tired of the ongoing conversation about "Scary Lucy," Poulin retired from sculpting altogether. His public admission that the statue really was awful paid off. In 2016, a new statue—this one created by Carolyn Palmer, who beat out more than 65 sculptors in a national competition to create the upgraded Lucy—was unveiled.

2. KURT COBAIN // ABERDEEN, WASHINGTON

In Kurt Cobain's hometown of Aberdeen, Washington, the late singer's February 20th birthday is "Kurt Cobain Day." As part of the initial festivities, the town unveiled this somber statue of the singer, which notably features a single tear. Artist Randi Hubbard began work on the sculpture shortly after Cobain's death in 1994. Sometime in the past two decades, she'd offered the work to the city who, at the time, refused. Their conviction has since wavered.

3. ARTHUR ASHE // RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

Arthur Ashe Statue

rvaphotodude, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

In 1996, Arthur Ashe's hometown of Richmond erected a statue in his likeness on Monument Avenue, despite controversy that a sculpture of the tennis great didn't belong alongside the existing congregation of Confederate icons. But the bronze memorial, cast by Paul di Pasquale, is bizarre for more than just its location. In an attempt to capture Ashe's dedication to social activism, he is shown holding books and a tennis racket high above the outstretched arms of a gaggle of children, frozen forever in a state of seemingly mocking them for their lack of height.

4. JAMES DEAN // LOS ANGELES

View of a statue of James Dean at the Griffith Observatory
Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images

James Dean himself commissioned the bust that stands as his memorial at the site of several key scenes from Rebel Without a Cause. But perhaps because artist Kenneth Kendall began work the night Dean died, the actor ended up looking downtrodden. In 1988—33 years after Dean's death—Kendall donated the sculpture to the Griffith Observatory.

5. WALTER JOHNSON // WASHINGTON, D.C.

Walter Johnson Statue in washington DC

Wally Gobetz, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

"It just doesn't work," Walter Johnson's grandson and biographer, Henry Thomas, said of the attempt to show motion in his grandfather's statue. The multi-armed likeness of the late Hall of Fame pitcher, the work of sculptor Omri Amrany, was erected outside Nationals Park in 2009.

6. OSCAR WILDE // LONDON

Oscar Wilde statue in London

Drinks Machine, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND-2.0

In a sculpture by Maggi Hambling, the bust of the brilliant Irish author rises out of a sarcophagus-style block. As if that wasn't creepy enough, his mangled bronze features actually look like something that has risen from the dead.

7. ST. BARTHOLOMEW // MILAN

The statue of St. Bartholomew presiding over the Milan Cathedral

carolyn_gifford, Flickr // CC BY NC-2.0

The oldest statue on this list was cast by Marco d'Agrate in 1562 to honor the only saint to have been skinned alive. And if you're an artist, how could you pass up a graphic opportunity like that? The statue of St. Bartholomew presiding over the Milan Cathedral is not only skinless, he is literally carrying his own skin, identifiable by the face and feet on either end.

8. FRANZ KAFKA // PRAGUE

In the Jewish Quarter of Prague, where Franz Kafka spent most of his life, a sculpture by Jaroslav Rona stands as a memorial to the influential author—or to giant, headless, handless, well-dressed men everywhere. A miniature Kafka sits perched on the shoulders of an ominous empty suit that looks to be lumbering toward the viewer.

9. SAINT WENCESLAS // PRAGUE

In Wenceslas Square, a statue of the eponymous patron saint of Bohemia is shown, in typical form, atop a gallant steed. Inside Lucerna Palace mere yards from the original, a parody of this statue by David Černý also depicts Saint Wenceslas and a horse. Only this time the horse is upside down—and dead. If the juxtaposition doesn't freak you out, the lolling horse tongue will.

10. MICHAEL JACKSON // LONDON

Michael Jackson Statue in London
Ian Walton/Getty Images

This slightly smirking, colorful rendition of the late King of Pop was actually deemed so creepy—and controversial—that it was removed in 2013. The former owner and chairman of the Fulham football team, Mohamed Fayed, commissioned the statue, which stood outside the Craven Cottage stadium from 2011 through late 2013 when new owner, American businessman Shahid Khan, heeded the public opinion and had the statue removed and returned to Fayed.

Could Leonardo da Vinci's Artistic Genius Be Due to an Eye Condition?

Young John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1513-16, Louvre, Paris).
Young John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1513-16, Louvre, Paris).
Christopher Tyler, JAMA Ophthalmology (2018)

Leonardo da Vinci was indisputably a genius, but his singular artistic vision may have been the result of seeing the world differently in more ways than one. A new paper argues that he had strabismus, a vision disorder where the eyes are misaligned and don’t look toward the same place at the same time. This disorder, visual neuroscientist Christopher Tyler argues, may have helped the artist render three-dimensional images on flat canvas with an extra level of skill.

Tyler is a professor at City, University of London who has written a number of studies on optics and art. In this study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, he examined six different artworks from the period when Leonardo was working, including Young John the Baptist, Vitruvian Man, and a self-portrait by the artist. He also analyzed pieces by other artists that are thought to have used Leonardo as a model, like Andrea del Verrocchio’s Young Warrior sculpture. Leonardo served as the lead assistant in the latter artist’s studio, and likely served as the model for several of his works. Leonardo was also a friend of Benedetto da Maiano, and possibly served as a model for his 1480 sculpture of John the Baptist. Tyler also looked at the recently auctioned Salvator Mundi, a painting that not all experts believe can be attributed to Leonardo. (However, at least one scientific team that examined the painting says it’s legit.)

With strabismus, a person’s eyes appear to point in different directions. Based on the eyes in Leonardo’s own portraits of himself and other artworks modeled after him, it seems likely that he had intermittent strabismus. When he relaxed his eyes, one of his eyes drifted outward, though he was likely able to align his eyes when he focused. The gaze in the portraits and sculptures seems to be misaligned, with the left eye consistently drifting outward at around the same angle.

'Vitruvian Man' with the subject's pupils highlighted
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo da Vinci (~1490, Accademia, Venice)
Christopher Tyler, JAMA Ophthalmology (2018)

“The weight of converging evidence suggests that [Leonardo] had intermittent exotropia—where an eye turns outwards—with a resulting ability to switch to monocular vision, using just one eye,” Tyler explained in a press release. “The condition is rather convenient for a painter, since viewing the world with one eye allows direct comparison with the flat image being drawn or painted.” This would have given him an assist in depicting depth accurately.

Leonardo isn’t the first famous artist whose vision researchers have wondered about. Some have speculated that Degas’s increasingly coarse pastel work in his later years may have been attributed to his degenerating eyes, as the rough edges would have appeared smoother to him because of his blurred vision. Others have suggested that Van Gogh’s “yellow period” and the vibrant colors of Starry Night may have been influenced by yellowing vision caused by his use of digitalis, a medicine he took for epilepsy.

We can never truly know whether a long-dead artist’s work was the result of visual issues or simply a unique artistic vision, but looking at their art through the lens of medicine provides a new way of understanding their process.

Learn to Paint Like Bob Ross in an Upcoming Facebook Live Event

Public television hero Bob Ross may no longer be with us, but you can still paint happy little trees in his honor. October 29, 2018 marks what would have been the 76th birthday of the beloved art teacher to the masses, and to honor his memory, the Quarto Group—publisher of the new book Painting With Bob Ross—is hosting a live-streamed painting party online.

Painting With Bob Ross provides step-by-step instructions to help you create some of the master’s favorite oil landscapes on your own. While Quarto’s October 23 painting party (a collaboration with Bob Ross, Inc.) can’t teach you how to mimic Ross's soothing voice, the celebration does include a painting session with Bernie Oropallo, a Certified Ross Instructor, who will demonstrate the techniques that Ross taught on The Joy of Painting.

Promo for The Quarto Group's Bob Ross painting party
The Quarto Group

The live-streamed instructional session will take place within the offices of a youth arts center in Beverly, Massachusetts, called Express Yourself. Oropallo will lead you through the process of painting “Distant Mountains,” one of the artworks included in the new book.

The painting lesson kicks off at 7:30 p.m. ET on October 23. To participate, log onto Facebook and head to the QuartoCreates page to join the live event. Before it starts, check out the event page here for a list of the supplies you’ll need to complete the painting. If you can’t make it to a computer that night, grab Painting With Bob Ross on Amazon ($15) to get the next best thing. If that’s not enough for you, we suggest you curl up with the official Bob Ross art book and/or a Bob Ross coloring book.

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