Füssli, the realm of dreams and the fantastic
In autumn 2022, the Musée Jacquemart-André will hold an exhibition devoted to the oeuvre of the Swiss-born British painter, Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli, 1741–1825). Comprising sixty works from public and private collections, the itinerary will present the most emblematic of works by Füssli, the artist of the imaginary and the sublime. From Shakespearean themes to representations of dreams, nightmares, and apparitions, and mythological and Biblical illustrations, Füssli forged a new aesthetic that shifted between reality and the fantastic.
The son of a painter and art historian, Henry Füssli was trained as a priest and started his artistic career relatively late, during a first trip to London, where he was influenced by the President of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds. After a long stay in Italy, during which he was fascinated, in particular, by the power of Michelangelo’s works, he settled in London at the end of the 1770s. Anatypical and intellectual artist, Füssli drew his inspiration from the literary sources that he interpreted imaginatively. In his paintings he developed a dreamlike and dramatic pictorial language, with its blend of the marvellous and the fantastic, the sublime and the grotesque.
Organised thematically, the exhibition explores Füssli’s entire oeuvre, which has not been the subject of a monographic exhibition in Paris since 1975. It opens with works that represent Shakespeare’splays, in particular Macbeth, and moves onto those depicting mythological and biblical tales, and then focuses on the female figures represented in his graphic works. This is followed by the themes of nightmares, a truly Füselian obsession, dreams, and apparitions.
Füssli developed a fantastic vein that was quite marginal at the time, as it distorted academic rules. In 1782, he presented his first version of Nightmare, an emblematic work drawn from his imagination that truly established his career as a painter. Elected Associate Member of the Royal Academy in1788, and Academician in 1790, Füssli, while working in a serial fashion, embodied the quest for the sublime that was all the rage in England at the time. The exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-Andréwill enable visitors to rediscover the striking works of the artist - works that are all too rare in French collections - by a highly original painter whose oeuvre was paradoxical, inspired by an imagination inwhich terror and horror were combined, forming the aesthetic origins of Dark Romanticism.