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 John Henry Fuseli  (1741 - 1825)

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About: John Henry Fuseli
 

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Lived/Active: Switzerland/England/United Kingdom      Known for: Romantic painting, themes of horror and eroticism

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The Vision of the Deluge
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Please note: Artists not classified as American in our database may have limited biographical data compared to the extensive information about American artists.

To have influenced a great artist may not make a painter great, but it does help make him interesting; probably no one had more impact on William Blake than John Henry Fuseli.  To look at Blake's nudes and then at Fuseli's, with their rhetorical gestures and armor-plate muscles, is to sense this.  Reckon in Fuseli's eccentricities, which though irreligious were akin to Blake's own, and it seems clear why the younger Blake spared Fuseli the contempt he felt for nearly every other English artist of his day.

Fuseli painted and drew like a man possessed; his images are full of paranoia.  He was suspected of being both a Turk and a Jew; he was neither.  He was born Johann Heinrich Fussli in Zurich in 1741, the son of a portrait painter.  Fuseli was not a painter when he came to England in 1764, but a young Zwinglian minister whose liberal ideas had driven him out of Zurich.  His intransigence grew with time, ripening into the melancholy sarcasm that was one of his most noted traits.

Fuseli had gone to Rome to study painting, and there he was swept away by Michelangelo's "Last Judgement".  From it most of his work stems: the bulging heroic figures, the hunched or springing poses, the mannish faces on the women. He used themes from Milton and Shakespeare of blood, darkness, prophecy and witchcraft.  He was elected a Royal Academician and appointed to an Academy professorship.

Fuseli's relaxation from blood was lust.  The most eminent of his lovers was Mary Wollstonecraft, the pioneer of English Feminism.  He married Sophia Rawlins whom he viewed as a cruel dominator.  The image suited his sexual proclivities. Several hundred of his erotic drawings were burned by his wife after he died, and most of the survivors are either about masochism or hair fetishes, or both.  He did produce one of the great sexual images of the 18th century with The Nightmare, a painting full of a sense of trespass on hitherto forbidden territory.  Sigmund Freud kept a framed photograph of it on the bookcase in his Vienna study.  Fuseli died in London in 1825; he had become of the most distinguished exiles in English art history.  He was buried next to Sr Joshua Reynolds in St. Paul's Cathedral.

Compiled and submitted August 2004 by Jean Ershler Schatz, artist and researcher from Laguna Woods, California

Sources include:
Robert Hughes in Time Magazine, March 3, 1975
Phaidon Encyclopedia of Art and Artists

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