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History’s Hidden Gems: The Meaning Behind TikTok’s Favorite Paintings

No piece of art has ever really affected me…

‘Anguish’ by August Friedrich Schenck. Credit: WikiArt

Spotlighting history’s hidden gems, TikTok’s most recent trend sees users sharing pieces of art that have emotionally resonated with them. Accompanied by Ghost’s Mary On A Cross, a new generation is discovering beautiful and striking works of art. With modern masterpieces and long-forgotten classics, here is a selection of the trends most popular.

‘Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan’ by Ilya Repin

Painted in 1885 by Ilya Repin, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan depicts the grief-stricken father and Tsar of Russia, Ivan, cradling his dying son. Whilst there is a lack of historical evidence behind Ivan Jr’s death, the painting’s wide popularity now suggests that Ivan the Terrible killed his son after an altercation in 1581. As the only heir to the throne, the painting is tainted with two kinds of death. The death of a son and the end of the family’s reign.

By far, the most striking part of the painting is the hauntingly distraught eyes of the Emperor. The anguish and remorseful expression of a father in disbelief of his actions make this piece unforgettable. Repin manages to convey almost all the stages of grief in a single expression. Following the assassination of Alexander II, Repin was inspired to paint the piece as a rejection of violence and bloodshed. It certainly reminds us of the consequences of acting upon hate and makes this piece the most striking of the trend.

‘Ivan The Terrible and His Son Ivan’ by Ilya Repin. Credit: WikiArt

‘Anguish’ by August Friedrich Schenck

Anguish by August Friedrich Schenck depicts a mother sheep grieving her lamb as he lay dead in the snow surrounded by crows. Painted in 1878, it’s no surprise that this emotional piece has been chosen for this TikTok trend. The hyper-realistic style of the piece brings it to life. With such human-like characteristics, the pain on the mother’s face is undeniable. Described by some as sinister, the murder of crows surrounds the small family. They seem to grieve with the mother as some stand patiently whilst others circle above in the grey night sky. The uncertainty of the flock as either funeral guests in mourning or hungry onlookers tints the painting with a sense of betrayal. A mother frozen in time by grief is enough to encourage anyone to stare at Schenck’s masterpiece for hours.

‘Anguish’ by August Friedrich Schenck

‘Halloween’ by Bo Bartlett

A modern piece painted in 2016, Bo Bartlett’s Halloween joins the trend as a subtle yet powerful painting. Dressed as a ghost on Halloween, a child’s eyes bore deep into the viewer whilst the other children run by. For some users, the child standing lonely in his costume symbolizes numbness or invisibility. For others, it represents the loss of childhood. As the child stares, he looks into his future. Users have suggested that the painting marks the moment he gains consciousness. Perhaps the beginning of maturity amongst peers who have not yet reached such a state. He can no longer blindly follow the road they walk.

Some have pointed out that the painting could represent the death of a child. His ghostly costume isn’t simply for the Halloween season. As other children walk by, enjoying the evening, he stands alone and looks into the viewer’s soul. Whatever the interpretation, the painting has undoubtedly struck a chord with many.

‘Halloween’ by Bo Bartlett

‘The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ by Paul Delaroche

Depicting another historical event, Paul Delaroche’s The Execution of Lady Jane Grey has made its way into the trend. Painted in 1833, the piece depicts Lady Jane Grey, who reigned for nine days as Queen of England. Tried for treason, the 17-year-old Queen was beheaded on 12 February 1554. Delaroche’s masterpiece shows the young girl being led carefully towards the block by Sir John Brydges, who stands helpless. As her outer clothing lay slumped in the back, her pure white garments seem to symbolize her youth and innocence. Powerless and exposed, the painting of the vulnerable Queen stirs feelings of guilt and sorrow for the 17-year-old. The victim of a political struggle for power, the piece cements itself as incredibly noteworthy within the trend.

‘ The Execution of Lady Jane Grey’ by Paul Delaroche. Credit: The National Gallery

‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Sergio Cupido

Another modern addition to the trend, Romeo and Juliet by Sergio Cupido depicts the two lovers reaching for each other whilst being pulled away by grabbing hands. Whilst many adore the piece for its raw display of the Shakespearian characters, others have searched for deeper meanings. Some users believe the piece represents two people letting their trauma and fears hold them back from truly connecting with one another. The grabbing hands painfully pulling the figures back into the shadows may indeed be their darkest demons, unwilling them to open up and move on. Cupido conveys a sense of love and deep passion while simultaneously depicting frustration and pain. The combination of desperation with a soul connection earns this piece a place in the trend.

‘Romeo and Juliet’ by Sergio Cupido

Whilst some recent TikTok trends delve into an AI-predicted future, an exploration of forgotten art gems is refreshing. Whether it’s oils from the 19th century or modern masterpieces, the latest trend certainly showcases some inspiring and emotional paintings. Why not delve into art history and discover your new favorite?

Written By

Melissa Rumbold is a 3rd year student at Durham University.

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