May 3, 2009

The Art of Henry Fuseli

Henry Fuseli (1741 – 1825) born Johann Heinrich Fussli was a Swiss painter. He hoped to follow a career in the church, but his unconventional views soon landed him in trouble and we was obliged to leave Zurich.


(Fuseli, Henry. The Nightmare. c. 1781. oil on canvas.
Detroit Institute of Art, Detroit, US.)

He settled in London in 1764, still uncertain of his future direction. It was only after a meeting with Joshua Reynolds, for years later that he decided to devote himself to painting.


(Fuseli, Henry. Lady Macbeth. c. 1784 oil on canvas.
Louvre, Paris.)

Fusel’s breakthrough as an artist came in 1782, when his painting “The Nightmare” caused a sensation at the Royal Academy. This set the tone for his unique brand of Romanticism. It is a potent cocktail of sex and horror. The small, green, devilish looking incubus that squats on the sleeper’s chest refers to sexualized, supernatural beings that appear in myths of many unrelated cultures, causing her to have nightmares. Peeking out from behind the curtains is a ghostly looking horse’s head, which is significant because it is a literal rendition of the “night mare”. The word “nightmare” comes from mara, the name of an evil demon.


(Fuseli, Henry. The Shepherd’s Dream. c. 1793 oil on canvas.
Tate Gallery, London.)

Most of Fuseli’s themes came from respectable literary sources, but he liked to explore the darker side of human nature. As a result, many of his pictures contain hints of suppressed violence, irrational fears or sexual perversity.



(Fuseli, Henry. Ezzelin and Meduna. c. 1779 oil on canvas.
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London.)

His dark themes and subject matter have inspired many modern day books and films such as Ken Russell’s “Gothic” released in 1986 and Eric Rohmer’s “Die Marquise von O…” released in 1976. His work is much appreciated here!

Enjoy :)

Reference: King, R. Art. New York: Dk Publishing, 2008.

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