Monday, November 7, 2011

The Invocation of Satan (1909) by Josef Váchal

Josef Váchal (1884-1969) was a multi-talented Czech artist, writer, graphic designer and printer.  In this incredible painting which he finished in 1909, he assimilates the influence and takes the decadence of the Vienna Secession to another more sinister level. This is a symphony of evil, a celebration of everything pagan, dark and haunting. The gold sky contrasts sharply with the darkness of the earth from which figures emerge, lost in a sinister wilderness where trees bare heads and skulls instead of fruit. Strange fruit indeed (only to reappear in the words sung in 1939 by Billie Holiday in another, all too real, context). But these desperate figures here, are attracted by the striking blood red silhouette that stands on higher ground. As the essence of its red color permeates and spoils the purity of the gold sky, they are hypnotized and stare with empty, black eyes towards the viewer. The subject is too powerful and unsettling to be confined on canvas. It spills over and poisons also the frame which seems to have been made from the trunks of these ghastly trees that carry a remembrance of forbidden rituals and a symbolism dominated by sin and orchestrated by the demon himself. Josef Váchal's "Invocation of Satan" seems to be stuck in time and we suddenly become alert to the fact that our viewing may in fact be stirring up something that has been frozen for centuries. 

The last owner of this painting didn’t fail to notice the change when he hanged the painting on the wall for the first time. At first there was a strange shadow visible at all hours of the day. A kind of extension of the frame. With time, the frame no longer contained the picture. It was all one. And at certain hours of the day, the wall would reflect, as if in liquid, the painted scenes. In fact, the owner insisted that very soon after, he was under the impression that the whole wall was covered with a strange kind of moving tapestry. Watching the painting became as absorbing as watching a film. When the neighbours called the police because of the sounds coming from the house on that fateful night of December, the owner was nowhere to be found. The painting was hanging on the wall. It would take a really observant viewer, who knew the original painting well, to notice that the dark figures between the cursed trees had increased by one.


  1. beautiful picture, crazy story - you're a poet!

  2. Τη στιγμή που η εικόνα πατάει τα όριά της - το κάδρο - η αφήγησή της διεκδικεί να είναι επικίνδυνη.
    Η ωραία ιστοριούλα που σκαρφίστηκες, νομίζω, υπογραμμίζει αυτή την αίσθηση.
    Άλλωστε, σήμερα τα κακά προαισθήματα φουντώνουν, ειδικά αυτά των ιδιοκτητών.