7 February 1741, the draughtsman and painter Henry Fuseli, née Johann Heinrich Füssli, was born in Zurich.
“… on his Night-Mare, through the evening fog, / Flits the squab fiend o’er fen, and lake, and bog, / Seeks some love-wilder’d Maid with sleep oppress’d, / Alights, and grinning sits upon her breast. / — Such as of late amid the murky sky / Was mark’d by FUSELI’s poetic eye; / Whose daring tints, with SHAKESPEARS’s happiest grace, / Gave to the airy phantom form and place“ (Erasmus Darwin: "The Loves of the Plants")
|One of Fuseli's famous “Nightmares” that became iconic in illustrating Gothic literature |
and encapsulates his work (“Der Nachtmahr”, 1790, now at Frankfurter Goethe-Haus)
Various stories crept around the highly educated gentleman from Switzerland – or was it Italy? – Fuseli, who first came to London in 1765. He was swearing loud, obviously, not that uncommon in Georgian days, but what with his peculiar foreign accent, dabbled in occultism, eating raw pork before going to bed and consuming opium on top of it to conjure up the dark visions he painted afterwards, in short, they didn’t called him the “Wild Swiss” for nothing. In fact, Fuseli enhanced the upcoming Gothic movement and mood of the late 18th century and the imaginations of the readers of Walpole, Beckford, Radcliffe and Lewis with his dark fantastic illustrations and painted interpretations of Dante, Shakespeare and the recently rediscovered Song of the Nibelungs, countering the classicistic conception of painting with a highly emotional view of the sombre sublime and the night side of matters.
Henry Fuseli: “The Night-Hag visiting the Lapland Witches” (1796)
The concrete, tangible world of the outward world always came out on the short end in favour of the dreamlike, often nightmarish manifest content of Fuseli’s work, comparable only to the imaginations of his friend William Blake, as if the prophet had eaten too heavy dinners on a regular basis indeed. However, Fuseli captures the dynamics of a flight or pursuit dream, full of life and movement and counter-poses and often adds erotic and a weird form of humour, a sense of the grotesque no proper dream should be without. Working rarely by drawing from life, let alone taking inspiration from his basic surroundings - "Damn Nature! she always puts me out!“, he used to exclaim, Fuseli painted no landscapes at all and did only two portraits in his whole period of works, he was nevertheless one of the foremost painters of European Romanticism.
|Henry Fuseli: "Fairy Mab" (around 1815)|
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