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Brushes and Bars: 11 Artists Who Dabbled in Crime


Art has always been a mirror reflecting the complexities of human nature. Throughout history, there have been artists who not only used their creative talents to captivate audiences but also delved into the realm of criminality. From forgers to thieves, and murders to insanity, these individuals straddled the line between artistic brilliance and unlawful behaviour. In this article, we will explore the intriguing stories of 11 artists who, despite their creative prowess, found themselves entangled in criminal activities.

Warning: Some of the following incidents include descriptions of brutal murders.

1. Caravaggio

Courtesy: Wikipedia.

Renowned Baroque painter Caravaggio’s turbulent life was marked by violent brawls and even murder. His exceptional mastery of light and shadow stood in stark contrast to his propensity for chaos. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s life was marred by violent confrontations and even murder. In 1606, during a brawl over a tennis game, Caravaggio killed a man named Ranuccio Tomassoni. Fleeing Rome, he became a fugitive and continued his artistic endeavors while on the run. 

2. Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini.
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The legendary goldsmith and sculptor Benvenuto Cellini was known for his extraordinary talents and fiery temper. His criminal inclinations often led him into violent altercations and duels. Most notably, he killed his rival, Pompeo, in a street fight. Despite his artistic accomplishments, his penchant for violence and criminal behavior remained a defining aspect of his life.

3. Banksy

Courtesy: Crosscut

Banksy, the anonymous street artist, has pushed the boundaries of legality with his politically charged and often controversial art. His graffiti-based work frequently involves trespassing on private property, vandalism, and unauthorized public installations. His elusive identity and subversive approach to art have led to clashes with law enforcement, as well as a worldwide following.

4.  Pablo Picasso

Courtesy: The Art Post Blog

Even Pablo Picasso was not immune to criminality. In 1911, he was accused of stealing the Mona Lisa from the Louvre, though he was later exonerated. This incident adds a fascinating twist to the legacy of the iconic artist. Other alleged allegations of the painter included mistreatment of his partners which include kidnapping and locking up women.

5. Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali.
Courtesy: Sotheby’s

Salvador Dali, the renowned 20th-century surrealist painter, displayed disturbing behaviour from a young age, pushing a friend off a bridge and biting an injured bat with ants. His unsettling actions included scams, an obsession with Hitler, necrophilia, cruelty, and intense narcissism, casting a disturbing shadow over his surreal artistic legacy.

6. Eugene Henri Paul Gaugin

Paul Gaugin.
Courtesy: Wikipedia

Being a prominent figure in the symbolist movement, Paul Gaugin was known for his paintings, sculptures, printmaking and ceramics. While abandoning one’s wife and 5 kids may not be considered a crime. Taking 3 child brides aged 13, and 14s is criminal, to say the least, and heinously pedophilic to be precise. All of which, goes without saying, is committed by Gaugin. 

7. Charles Bronson

Charles Bronson.
Courtesy: Channel 4

Bronson was famously known as the “most violent prisoner in Britain” as he was convicted of armed robbery in ‘74 and sentenced to years in prison. His sentence was later on extended to life after his numerous altercation with other prisoners and guards with incidents that involve holding hostages and violent fights. He flourished as an artist while inside, creating paintings of institutional life and mental situations and even writing a fitness book. In honour of Dali, he changed his name to Charles Salvador and founded the Charles Salvador Art Foundation, which supports the use of art as a tool for self-expression and helping those who are going through difficult times. 

8. Francisco Franco

Bear and Hounds by Francisco Franco.
Courtesy: Listverse

Fransico Franco is famously known for being Spain’s fascist dictator and tyrant who caused the civil war. He also painted, famously the painting titled, “Bear and Hounds”. Not only was his induced civil war causing approximate of 500,000 deaths, he also compiled a list of 6,000 Jews and handed them to the Nazis. 

9. Richard Dadd

Richard Dadd.
Courtesy: Medium

Richard Dadd’s crime was more tragic than criminal in the traditional sense. In 1843, while suffering from severe mental illness, he murdered his father. His subsequent confinement to an asylum marked the intersection of his artistic ability and his descent into madness.

10. Wayne Lo

Wayne Lo.
Courtesy: Murderpedia

Wayne Lo’s criminal act was a tragic and violent one. In 1992, he went on a shooting spree at Simon’s Rock College, killing two people and injuring several others. He was sentenced to two life imprisonment without parole. His art is available on his website, proceeds from which would go to the student Lo murdered. 

11. Harry Horse

Harry Horse.
Courtesy: Facebook.

Lastly, Illustrator and author Harry Horse’s life ended in a murder-suicide. In 2007, the children’s book illustrator uttered “Its a wonderful night for killing” as he brutally murdered his wife so much so that the knife broke, but he continued with a second knife before taking his own life. Before committing suicide horse also killed their pet cat and dog, meanwhile continuing to stab himself 48 times to death. The incident cast a sombre light on his whimsical children’s books and the underlying complexities of his personal life.



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