Art style

11 Famous Artworks That Were Never Completed

Artists and writers cannot always bring their works to grand completion. Sometimes they plan too big. Sometimes life gets involved. But just because the creators’ plans fail doesn’t mean audiences care or even notice. Here are the stories behind 11 classics that left us hanging.

1. Symphony No. 8 (Unfinished) (1822) // Francois Schubert

Franz Schubert probably died of syphilis and was nicknamed “Little Mushroom”. But don’t hold it against him. His music proved melodious and enduring, one of his most enduring works being this unfinished symphony. In truth, as critic Brian Newbould said, it’s more of a “finished half-symphony” – it consists of two complete, fully orchestrated movements. Most classical symphonies have four. Nobody really knows why Schubert stopped working on the piece, and a friend of his kept it a secret until almost 40 years after the composer’s death.

2. The Thief and the Shoemaker (1992 // Richard Williams

British animation genius Richard Williams is best known these days for his contributions to Who framed Roger Rabbit. But he also worked for an amazing three decades on The Thief and the Shoemakeran animated adaptation of Arabian nights legends. It has turned heads in the animation community (some of its plot points and character designs have magically appeared in Disney’s Aladdin) but Williams ultimately lost control of the film to his financiers – with approximately 15 minutes of animation to complete. It was reworked, reanimated, and completely botched in a theatrical release. Fans have reacted in recent years with a “re-paved” version, based on Williams’ original intentions.

3. Portrait of George Washington (1796) // Gilbert Stuart

This iconic square-jawed image is the basis of the portrait of George Washington on the dollar bill and countless reproductions. Our image of the man who could not lie comes largely from this unique painting, dubbed The Athenaeum. But political portraitist Gilbert Stuart never finished his portrayal of the nation’s first president. Instead, he kept the canvas – the head and shoulders are complete, but not much else – and used it as a source for painting over 100 duplicates, which he sold for millions. nice sums. (The original wasn’t a paintable picnic, either—Washington’s new set of false teeth made his mouth look all swollen.)

4. The Silmarillion (1977) // JRR Tolkien

After the publication of The Lord of the Rings back in 1954 and 1955, fantasy fans were gasping for the next great book from Anglo-Saxon scholar-turned-fantasy author JRR Tolkien. Although he produced a few short plays, it was only after his death in 1973 that The Silmarillion finally emerged. The book had begun as early as 1916, and Tolkien kept cutting it down well into the 1970s. His son, Christopher, finally put his father’s papers in order, and the collection of legends about the Land of Middle ran to the top of The New York Times list of bestsellers.

5., 6. and 7. The trial (1925), The castle (1926), and America (1927) // Franz Kafka

In these three books, the bohemian Franz Kafka (he was actually born in the country of Bohemia) attempted to extend his short story genius into book form. He never quite got there, abandoning his three books in various states of disarray (The castle can’t even finish his last sentence). Kafka died in 1924, at the age of 40. In his will, he ordered his friend Max Brod to destroy all his unpublished works. Brod quickly published everything instead, cementing Kafka’s literary reputation.

8. Requiem (1791) // Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

The mythology is dense around Mozart’s last composition, which was commissioned by Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach and obsessed the composer on his deathbed. What we know for sure is that Mozart only completed the first two movements. He sketched the next several parts, but expired before finishing the piece. Mozart’s widow, Constanze, then recruited one of the composer’s students, Franz Xaver Süssmayer, to write the last two sections. However the piece was conceived, it is considered today an imposing classic and a tempting target for modern composers who have created their own “complete” versions.

9. and 10. Don Quixote (1969) and The other side of the wind (1976) // Orson Welles

Filmmaker Orson Welles left a legacy of partially completed and abandoned projects. Don Quixote was filmed for about fifteen years and left in disarray (the death of the actor playing Don didn’t help). The surviving fragments of the film were edited into a somewhat confusing 1992 version.

The other side of the wind was different, however. Welles’ last complete non-documentary film was nearly finished and filmed from start to finish. It just had the misfortune to be partly financed by someone close to the Shah of Iran. After the Iranian Revolution, ownership of the film was questioned, and Welles never fully edited it. Director and writer Peter Bogdanovich had worked hard to make it happen, but those pesky rights issues kept the film out of reach for years. In 2018, the film had its world premiere at the 75th Venice International Film Festival.

11. Kubla Khan (1798) // Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1798)

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wanted his now classic poem to be 200 or 300 lines. The whole work came to him in a hallucinatory dream, and after waking up he began to write it. But Coleridge was then interrupted by a “Porlock business person” and forgot the rest of the poem. “Porlock Person” has thus become literary shorthand for an intruder who breaks a writer’s train of thought. Nabokov and Heinlein, among others, referenced it. And Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams used the incident as a major plot point in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.