Henry Fuseli

Henry Fuseli
A Swiss-born artist who lived and worked in Berlin, Rome and London, Fuseli is generally thought of as English. While in Rome he became fascinated with the work of Michelangelo and changed his name from Johann Heinrich Füssli to the Italian sounding “Fuseli”.

Like the Pre-Raphaelites (see my post on William Holman-Hunt), who he pre-dated by some years, Fuseli often painted literary subjects; depicting scenes from Shakespeare and John Milton.

He also often painted mythological or fantastic subjects and the edges of his paintings are frequently populated with tiny details of elves and fairies. He created works infused with horror, wild imaginings and eroticism.

He seemed to want drama above all things in his canvases and often contorted and exaggerated his figures to achieve a dramatic effect. Men were overly muscled and women melodramatically sexual. You might think of him as a precursor to modern fantasy illustrators in that regard.

The picture shown here, The Nightmare, made his reputation and is by far his most famous and recognizable work.

Fuseli’s working methods were reputedly unorthodox and he was said to have often used his paints as a dry powder, spread and worked with a pencil dipped in oil or turpentine.

He was at one point romantically involved with Mary Wollstonecroft, whose daughter, Mary Shelly, wrote Frankenstein.

There is an exhibition at the Tate Gallery in London: Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination that runs until May 1, 2006.

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