Famous Unfinished Artwork

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Most artists are not appreciated in their lifetime and this goes for painters, sculptors, musicians and designers. The creative process is a powerful thing and creative people are often working on many projects at once. It is no great surprise then that there are so many incomplete pieces of work from the world of literature, art, architecture and even film making. Here is a list of ten of the most notable incomplete creative works.

1. Painting: Treaty of Paris

treaty Following the end of the American Revolutionary War, those involved in the Treaty of Paris which recognised and protected the right of sovereignty for the former European colonies in North America, were supposed to all seat for a painting to mark the occasion. Out of embarrassment for the defeat by the colonies, the British delegates refused to be seated and so Benjamin West’s portrait is incomplete, maybe with around 1/3 of the images on the right hand side being completely blank.

2. Painting: Adoration of the Magi

One of Leonardo Da Vinci’s earliest work has been in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence since 1670. Commissioned by an Augustinian monastery in 1481, Leonardo left for Milan the following year and the painting was left as is. It depicts the Virgin Mary with the Christ Child with the three Magi kneeling in adoration of the pair. There is a curious pre-Christian building in the background which is undergoing repair. It is most likely the Basilica of Maxentius which the Romans said would not fall until a virgin gave birth.

3. Painting: Elizabeth Shoumatoff’s Unfinished Portrait

Some paintings are incomplete because the subject matter dies unexpectedly during the course of the sitting. This is what happened with the artist commissioned by President Roosevelt in 1945 to pass what was to be the last ever painting of him. He died the same day and the image remained incomplete. The image’s face is all but complete, as is the top of the suit he wore on the day.

4. Book: Mystery of Edwin Drood

Charles Dickens was a prolific British writer during the late 19th century, best-known for A Christmas Carol and a long list of other works; he died while writing this mystery thriller. Though named after Drood, it is largely about his uncle John Jasper. Drood goes missing during the course of the book and later turns up dead (murdered). This means that the identity of the murderer was never discovered. However, close friends of Dickens claimed that he verbally disclosed full details of the plot. Over New Year 2012, The BBC commissioned a TV version with a new ending.

5. Book: Summa Theologiae

Thomas Aquinas is one of the world’s most famous theology historians and a source of much doctrine and Christian thought despite that he lived in the 13th century. This is his best-known work on the history of philosophy and yet surprisingly, it was not finished. It contains many doctrines and the reasoning behind each one is listed thoughtfully; it is considered a guide to living for moderate belief. It is most famous for ‘Five Ways’, what Aquinas lists as the five proofs of the existence of God.

6. Book: Gormenghast

The fantasy trilogy by Mervyn Peake was never intended to be just a trilogy. He died in 1968, nine years after publication of the third book. However, his widow published a fourth book in 2009; yet still, this was not the full scope of Peake’s intention. He had planned a prequel series about Steerpike and to finally bring the story together after Titus decides to leave his regal expectations, with two following books. Parkinson’s Disease meant that Peake could no longer write and complete his work.

7. Building: Ryugyong Hotel

North Korea’s intended most-impressive hotel stands at 105 stories in the centre of Pyongyang. It is pyramid shaped with ‘barbs’ making it look like a spearhead. It began construction in 1987 but in 1992, building ceased when the country entered an economic crisis after the end of the Soviet Union. It has stood, empty and incomplete ever since. Though the exterior was completed in 2012 and several attempts at an opening schedule were made, they were soon shelved. Kempinski were due to take charge of the building in 2012 but that too was put on hold.

8. Building: Sagrada Família

It’s full name is the Basílica Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, this impressive basilica church in Barcelona, Spain is still under construction 120 years after building work began. Despite being incomplete, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was officially consecrated in 2010 by then Pope Benedict XVI. Today, visitors can expect to see extensive scaffolding and slow progress as the finance has come purely from private donation. It is slowly being complete and its architect Antoni Gaudi died in 1926 when the building was just 25% complete.

9. Film: Something’s Got to Give

Scrapped a week into filming, this movie featured Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin and Cyd Charisse. Production was fraught with problems owning to Monroe’s personal issues in the last few months of her life. She was at one point fired from the set and when she died in August 1962, production was permanently halted. Even the completed footage remained in storage, unseen for many years and the studio rewrote the script, recast and gave it a new title for a film released a couple of years later. A reconstructed piece was aired in the US in 1999 and released on DVD later.

10. Sculptures: Prisoners

‘Prisoners’ is the collective name of a group of four uncompleted sculptures by Michaelangelo: Young Slave, Atlas Slave, Awakening Slave and Bearded Slave. Each are nearly three metres tall and were intended for the tomb of Pope Julius II. The completed tomb itself contains six sculptures, all executed by Michaelangelo. It is likely that these four were incomplete as the powers that be preferred the others.


It can be frustrating when a book is incomplete and it may spoil the enjoyment of a piece of art, even if it does delve into the mind of the artist to show their creative process and how they piece something together. In most cases, there is a strong desire to leave well alone but for others, there is an urge to see the finished piece. Enjoy the incomplete works as they are!

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