Henry Fuseli was a Swiss national who moved to London and settled there for the rest of his life. He was a contemporary of Blake’s and both their works have been depicted together.
“Henry Fuseli is the forerunner of the many exiled artists and writers of the 20th Century who like Kandinsky ,Picasso and Joyce have never quite assimilated in their adopted domicile”. .
Fuseli’s many paintings and drawings often depict Imaginings in the night and fantastic Nightmarish apparitions which appear to terrify people at the dead of night. ” In this way Fuseli developed a style which once formed remained essentially unchanged for the rest of his life. It is a stle in which the human figure is the sole vehicle of expression”. .
Fuseli who set out to support changes and revolutionary activity and support the movement of the Working class unlike Blake became an extreme reactionary. “A frustrated rebel and a pessimistic philosopher of History Fuseli soon swung away from his initial support of the French Revolution being its most severest critic”. .
As my illustrations show Fuseli drew heavily on the supernatural and the fears of people of the time. ” The scepticism of the Enlightenment was by then a thing of the past and it became fashionable to acknowledge the existence of even the most obtuse manifestations of the supernatural”. .
” Fuseli’s aim was to show that such spirits are nothing but figments of the misguided imagination of those who believed in them. He used the spirits as a means of social satire”. .
Fuseli was befriended by the leaders of the British art establishment like Sir Joshua Reynolds and others. Reynolds who was President of the Royal Academy became a close friend of Fuseli.
“Fusel’s system is largely indebted to classicist art theory like (Sir Joshua Reynolds) he believed that all great works of art originate in the last analysis from precise observation of nature”. .
Fuseli’s study of nature meant that he gave a great debt to the great Classical masters before him. ” He admired the vigour and originality of Rembrandt and Caravagio and in the last three great lectures attributed greater importance than before to the study from nature”. .
“He described Turner as the only landscape painter of genius in all of Europe”. .
Cruelty and violence are often depicted in Fuseli’s drawings and paintings . “depictions of male surrender to female cruelty occur so frequently in Fuseli’s work that they almost constitute his most personal form of expression”. .
“Fuseli uses countless heroes from mythology or literature to symbolise the fundamental tragic elements of human behaviour , jealousy and faithfulness evil abuse and violence , mental confusion and the longing for salvation”. .
Fuseli’s concern with the role of man is reflected in his searching for an answer to the problems of Man’s search for fulfilment in civilised society.
” A close examination of his work reveals that both these levels have a direct bearing on the predicament of civilised man in todays civilisation”. .
His friendship with Blake was to founder on the basis of Blake’s religious and mystical insight and his fundamental approach to Christian depictions in all of Blake’s work. “Beginning of his friendship with William Blake. Their initial intense exchange of ideas is restricted by Fuseli’s objections to Blake’s mysticism”. .
As other commentators have observed Fuseli’s attitude to the art world was to shock it out of its lethargy with his colourful and challenging depictions of the Human Body.
“At once admired and scorned for his cynical Libertinism he was renowned for his colourful blasphemy and over bearing manner- Fuseli enjoyed testing the limits of artistic decorum”. .
The nightmare his first real characterisation of supernatural nightmare and horror have been subjected to much art criticism. “Although the first version of the Nightmare (1781) may have employed the imagery of supernatural persecution in veiled allusion to the diminished status of Brittania after the war with the American colonies and in the work of the civil disorder of the Gordon Riots ,Fuseli maintained a lifelong obsession with the feminine realm of dreams”. .
Fuseli’s art attempts to show that virtue and art can be displayed and both terror and pleasure can be combined as a new development in History painting. “Fuseli’s credo that the forms of virtue are erect, the forms of pleasure undulate and can be properly taken as the guiding principle behind his more heroic species of History painting”. ’
Fuseli in the end remained part of the established art tradition and his relationship with Reynolds would influence his art, although conjuring up Devil’s and Succubi he remained on the verges of famous artists and would never reach the pinnacle that Constable and Turner achieved.
“But Fuseli was generally reluctant to grant any direct or social or moral function to Modern English Art”. .
Both Fuseli and Blake were never able to achieve their true fame as artists in 19th Century England. Fuseli although more financially sound than Blake failed in the end to establish a new form of History Painting and remained in the shadows, the Genres were changing and although History painting would continue to portray great Historical events it would be portraiture and Landscape painting that would dominate the period. This concludes my discussions of 19th Century art criticism. In my next postings I will concentrate on 20th Century and Modern Art.
1) HENRY FUSELI 1741-1825 TATE PUBLICATIONS PG 9
2) DITTO PG 10
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13) 19TH CENTURY ART A CRITICAL HISTORY PG 111
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16) DITTO PG 114