Death of Chatterton

Accession Number

Death of Chatterton

Vik Muniz

Artist Nationality
American (North American)

Object Creation Date

Medium & Support
dye destruction print on paper

51 1/2 in x 67 9/16 in x 2 in (130.81 cm x 171.61 cm x 5.08 cm);51 1/2 in x 67 9/16 in x 2 in (130.81 cm x 171.61 cm x 5.08 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund

Label copy
March 28, 2009
A copy of a copy is always an original thing.
—Vik Muniz
Muniz is known for using unconventional materials—dust, soil, thread, sugar, and, in this case, chocolate syrup—to recreate famous images from the history of art, which he then preserves in photographic form. He calls the resulting works—drawings translated into photographs that recall paintings—“photographic delusions.” These visual tricks invite the viewer to resolve them into their component layers and simultaneously challenge the notion that things are what they seem.
The subject, composition, and title of this work are borrowed from a painting by Henry Wallis of 1856 that depicts the dead body of Thomas Chatterton, an English poet who committed suicide by arsenic in 1770 at the age of seventeen; Chatterton served as an icon of unacknowledged genius to nineteenth-century romantics. Muniz chose Bosco chocolate syrup (the same brand used by Hitchcock to represent blood in his black and white films) to recreate Death of Chatterton because it forced him to work quickly before the chocolate dried out or melted under the hot studio lights. Though the original drawing is ephemeral, the photograph of it—produced, ironically, in an instant—is lasting.

Subject matter
Muniz based this image on Henry Wallis' painting of the same name, painted in 1856. Wallis' painting depicts the dead body of Thomas Chatterton, an English poet who committed suicide at the age of 17 in 1770. Long regarded as an icon for the Romantics, Muniz revisits the subject of Chatterton's death in his "Pictures of Chocolate" series, in which he reproduced the original work by drawing in chocolate syrup on white plexi-glass, photographing it for the finished piece.

Physical Description
A photograph of a drawing made with chocolate syrup on a piece of white plexi-glass.

Primary Object Classification

Collection Area

If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Romantic (modern European styles)
historical regions
photography (process)

8 Related Resources

Death and Dying
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Humorous Appropriation
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Surreal Photography
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
C2 - Fairchild - Metaphysics (brainstorm)
(Part of: Curriculum/Collection)
You Are Here: Docent Module
(Part of: Fall 2021 Docent Exhibition Packet)

& Author Notes

All Rights Reserved