Summary of Henry Fuseli
At a time when moralistic reverence and factual accuracy were staples of British academic painting, Fuseli stood out amongst his peers as the artist who revelled in the macabre and fantastical. In the new age of scientific and liberal enlightenment, Fuseli played rather on the spectator's primal fears and instincts in painted scenarios that would often marry the supernatural with the erotic. Coming from a strong theological background, Fuseli's intellectual interests would evolve along more philological and humanitarian lines and he carved out a successful parallel career as a theoretician and professor. He had honed his artistic practice, however, in an eight-year study period in Rome where Michelangelo proved to be his biggest stylistic influence. Thematically his art is most famous for its intense emotional content which was expressed through a series of interpretations of poetic and theatrical works (including Milton and Shakespeare). Though not considered of great (or at least of a lesser) artistic merit, he produced a large number of erotic - most would say pornographic - sketches and drawings that have seen him aligned with the libertine movement that originated in eighteenth century France. He had a conspicuous influence on the style of the emerging generation of British artists, most notably, William Blake.
- Standing apart from his more austere Academy colleagues, Fuseli was considered the maestro of melodramatic exposition. Having fallen under the spell of the Mannerists while studying in Rome, Fuseli achieved his most powerful dramatic effects through a mastery of chiaroscuro lighting and the skilful foreshortening of figures and objects.
- Though well versed in the ideals of the Enlightenment, Fuseli became closely associated with the German Sturm and Drang (storm and stress) literary group which sought to challenge what they saw as the "cult" of rationalism. His mistrust of rationalism manifested itself in his art through an individualistic style that dealt, not with the objective world, but rather with the experiences of the senses.
- Because of his fascination with dream worlds, sexual symbolism and the supernatural - which he tended to explore through personal interpretations of poetic and tragic literary works - Fuseli is seen as the godfather of the twentieth-century Surrealist movement.
- Fuseli's unabashed love of women played a crucial role in his art. The theme of the sheltered woman being terrorized by a demon saw his paintings singled out as an antecedent of the emerging strain of gothic horror in literature. Meanwhile, his most provocative work emerged out of his sexual relationship with his wife, the artist Sophia Rawlins. Known to be fetishists (predominantly about hair), Rawlins posed for her husband in a series of erotic pictures over the course of their long married life.
Biography of Henry Fuseli
Fuseli was fascinated with the extremes of human passion and was adept at painting scenes of abject human tragedy. In Oedipus Cursing His Son Polynices (1786), he shows the blind Oedipus calling for each of his sons to die at the hands of the other, the dark tones of the canvas echoing the gloomy depths of the human spirit.