Every year during exams, an allegedly cursed painting is covered up by a Union Flag so that the students at Royal Holloway College at the University of London don’t fail their tests or go insane if they accidentally look at it. As odd as it may seem, the painting does have a long history of being cursed and that’s why so many people are afraid of it.
The painting that dates back to the year 1864 is called “Man Proposes, God Disposes” (you can also see a colored version of the painting by clicking on the link) and was painted by Edwin Landseer. It is one disturbing painting to say the least as it’s based on real events from the Franklin Expedition of 1845 when John Franklin and his crew were searching for a Northwest Passage across the Canadian Arctic when the two ships went missing. The painting contains a horrific scene with two polar bears attacking one of the ships as well as the human remains that were on board. One of the bears has a rib bone from a human clenched in his jaw, while the other one is pulling at what appears to be a blood-soaked piece of fabric.
When John Rae went searching for the lost ships and crew members in 1854, he talked to some Inuit locals who said they had met some of the crew after they had abandoned their ship. They later discovered Franklin’s telescope as well as some bones belonging to members of the crew. What’s even more disturbing is that some of the human remains showed signs of cannibalism.
Thomas Holloway, who was the founder of the college, bought the painting for £6,615 which at the time was the highest amount ever paid at an auction for work created by a living artist. He was said to be fascinated with the story of the missing ships and crew members, so that would explain why he was so determined to purchase the painting.
The painting is said to be dangerously cursed and some stories seem to back up that theory. Laura MacCulloch, who is the college curator, explained one very disturbing story, “No one quite knows when the tradition of covering the picture first began but according to an article published in 1984 it seems to have started in the 1970s when a rumour was spread that a student who looked directly at the painting during an exam, went mad and committed suicide.” The student apparently wrote “the polar bears made me do it” on his incomplete exam. While there’s no evidence that this event actually took place, it is still frightening to think about.
Since there are new questions as to whether the curse of one of the ships – HMS Terror – has caused several people’s deaths in the Canadian Arctic, it may be a good idea to look away from the painting just in case there is a dangerous curse attached to things and places involved with the tragic Franklin Expedition disaster.