Thursday, January 29, 2015

Henry Fuseli

The Nightmare
oil on canvas
101.6 × 127 cm
Detroit Institute of Arts, Michigan, USA

Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), original name Johann Heinrich Fussli, was a Swiss painter, draughtsman and writer on art who spent much of his life in Britain. His paintings are among the most dramatic, original, and sensual works of his time. Many of his works deal with supernatural subject-matter. Always drawn to literary and theatrical subjects, he developed a special interest in illustrating Shakespeare. He had a noticeable influence on the style of his younger contemporary, William Blake.

He was born in Zurich, Switzerland, the second of 18 children. His father was a painter of portraits and landscapes. He intended his son Henry for the church, and sent him to the Caroline college of Zurich, where he received an excellent classical education. Obliged to flee Zurich because of political entanglements, he went first to Berlin, and then settled in London in 1764. Encouraged to become a painter, he left England in 1770 to study in Italy, where he stayed until 1778. During his stay in Rome he studied the works of Michelangelo and classical art, which became his major stylistic influences. He painted more than 200 pictures, but he exhibited only a small number of them. His sketches or designs numbered about 800; they have admirable qualities of invention and design, and are frequently superior to his paintings.

In 1788 he started to write essays and reviews for the Analytical Review. He was a thorough master of French, Italian, English and German, and could write in all these languages with equal facility and vigour, although he preferred German as the vehicle of his thoughts. His principal work was his series of twelve lectures delivered to the Royal Academy, begun in 1801. His pupils included John Constable, Benjamin Haydon, William Etty, and Edwin Landseer. William Blake, who was 16 years his junior, recognized a debt to him, and for a time many English artists copied his mannerisms.

In 1788 he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy, becoming a full academician two years later. He was professor of painting at the Royal Academy. He was appointed keeper of the Academy in 1804.