The Wild Cat’s Portrait
In the museum of Objects of the Damned, the gallery walls are lined with paintings haunted and cursed. We find the classics like “The Crying Boy,” “Aunt Pratt,” “The Hands Resist Him,” “The Anguished Man,” and, my personal favorite, M.R. James’s “The Mezzotint.”
But there is a vacant place in the gallery. It awaits the portrait of a killer… a sinister drawing of a wild cat that brought nothing but destruction to its owners.
Dr. Franz Hartmann, whose attention has been drawn to this subject [haunted objects], writes…that such things may seem to be very strange and incredible, nevertheless they are neither unheard of nor new’. ” Similar occurrences,” he observes, “are narrated in Emily [Emma] Hardinge Britten’s History of American Spiritualism, and he forwards in confirmation of his statement the following account given by T. H. Kemer of Wernsberg, [Theobald Kerner of Weinsberg] a literary man of some note in Germany.
Herr Kemer writes:—
“One day Count Alexander of Würtemburg [1801-1844] sent to my father [physician, poet, and author of The Seeress of Prevorst Justinus Kerner] a picture in an ordinary black frame. It was the life-size picture of a wild cat, drawn with black chalk upon a bluish paper, and the same bluish tint was to be seen in the eyes of the cat, the animal being of a dark colour. The most remarkable feature of this picture was that the longer one looked at it the more did the cat seem to be living. The eyes then assumed a malignant, dismal look, making one feel quite uncomfortable. Even now, after years have passed, I cannot forget that look. The picture was accompanied by the following letter:—
“‘My dear Justin,—I send you this picture; it is so well painted that I do not like to burn it; nevertheless, I cannot keep it any longer, as it would make me crazy. I saw it once hanging on the wall in the room of a forester in my service. The man seemed to be in excellent circumstances and happily married, but two months ago he shot himself without any apparent cause. I bought the picture from the widow and hung it up in my room; but I cannot bear the eyes of that cat any more; they constantly attract my attention and render me so melancholy that I feel I should finally end in the same way as the forester unless I gave the picture away. I therefore send it to you, as you are known to be a master over the spirits; to you this evil spell will do no harm.’
“Soon afterwards Count Alexander died. The picture now hung in our room and my father had a dislike for it, but as it was the last gift of his friend he would not part with it. One day, however, he gave it to me, desiring me to put it away. He said he could not bear any longer to have it about him.
“For nearly a year the picture hung in my room and I paid no attention to it. One night in winter, while I was writing a letter, it suddenly seemed to me as if I were not alone in my room, as if something strange were sneaking near me. I looked up and saw the eyes of that cat. I then knew instantly that there would be no more peace between us. These eyes seemed to persecute me; I hated them, and the worst thing was that I felt they were stronger than I. The eyes of that cat seemed to suck the very life out of my nerves and to absorb my thoughts.
“I did not wish to give it away, but finally I found an excuse for doing so. I knew a gentleman who was a great lover of sport and hunting and just getting ready to furnish his new house. To him I gave the picture. He was very glad to receive it and hung it up in the hall. Six months afterwards he killed himself, having become melancholy without any apparent cause.
“A relative of this gentleman took the cat with him. A few months passed away, when he was found dead in his bed. Whether he was murdered or committed suicide has not been ascertained. I do not know what afterwards became of the cat.”
Dr. Hartmann observes in conclusion:—
“It seems clear from this account, that it was not the painting itself which exercised such a deleterious influence upon its possessor; but that some living power, whether we call it an ‘elemental’ or a ‘thought-form’ or a ‘magic spell’ had been attached to it, as presumably was, and still is, the case with the picture on the lid of the coffin in the British Museum. Such things will naturally be incomprehensible to our physicists as long as they are unable to realize the fact known to every occultist, that the ‘astral’ and mental planes are worlds of their own, invisible to our physical eyes, but nevertheless real and substantial and having inhabitants of their own with powers to will and think and act, be it instinctively or intelligently. Perhaps it is our own willing and thinking which create such invisible living forces, which outlive their creators. Everybody knows that thoughts and ideas continue to exist, and may exist, for centuries after their originators have passed away.”
The Occult Review May 1909: pp. 244-45
We have met Dr Hartmann before, oddly enough, writing about the changeable painting of an alleged vampire countess. Given his association with Theosophy and his involvement with a number of other occultist groups, “thought-forms” or “elementals” would be his first explanation for a paranormal predator. I certainly have no alternative theory to offer.
I’ve taken the liberty of illustrating this post with another sinister wild cat picture, but would give much to have seen the original. Black chalk on blue paper sounds like it would be almost invisible, but pastels on greyish- or sky-blue paper give a kind of eerie sculptural effect. The perfect medium for a brooding stalker of souls.
Have you any other haunted paintings to add to the Gallery of the Damned? Sketches in plain black frames to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.