Spooky Art: Haunted House by Morris Kantor (Interpretation and Analysis)

Haunted House
Source: Art Institute of Chicago

I first encountered this painting on social media. When I initially saw it, I thought to myself “now this is what I call a haunted house!” The piece immediately struck me as a creative and chilling way to depict a haunting.

As Halloween approaches, I wanted to share this unique vision of a haunted house. After all, there’s nothing spookier than a spirit in your living room!

As the title suggests, Haunted House depicts a living room decorated in the early American, Colonial style. The atmosphere is cheerful and bright; however, the warm and inviting room is juxtaposed with several eerie shadows that dominate the foreground of the painting.

One of these shadowy forms takes the shape of a person, while the other shapes suggest an open door. Other houses are embedded in these ghostly shapes, blurring the lines between indoors and outdoors and day and night. To the viewer, it feels as though there is an unwelcome presence in the room. It’s almost as though a spirit has entered the space, bringing the night with it.

These shadows turn the ordinary room into something uncanny. This phenomenon happens when something strange appears in the guise of something familiar. This experience is confusing for the human psyche, making encountering something uncanny a disconcerting experience. Thus, the ordinary furnishings and floral wallpaper seem sinister when paired with the spectral shapes, creating a tense and unsettling atmosphere. As the Art Institute of Chicago explains, the shadowy shapes “transform a nostalgic interior into a space of mystery and uncertainty.”

Today, artist Morris Kantor is known for experimenting with a wide variety of styles and subjects, including several paintings of domestic interiors. Each of these paintings features a room in a house with some sort of surreal twist; Haunted House is the most famous of these works. According to my research, Kantor was inspired to create these domestic scenes after visiting colonial houses during summer visits to New England.

Happy haunting!