Friday, October 2, 2009

Fuseli's Nightmares

I've had a little bit of insomnia lately. It hasn't been too bad, but substantial enough to be annoying. Last night, as I was twisting and turning in bed, I wryly thought of how much I envied the woman in Fuseli's The Nightmare (1781, shown above). Despite being surrounded by nightmarish figures, at least she was getting some sleep.

I've liked this painting ever since my first art history class in high school. It's just so bizarre and compelling. I especially like the distorted proportions of the woman's body (it reminds me of Mannerist art) and the burning eyes of the spooky horse.

It's possible his interest in this subject matter was due to his romantic attachment to a woman named Anna Landolt. Anna's uncle rejected Fuseli as a suitor, which really embittered the artist. This nightmare theme was created relatively soon after his rejection, "perhaps [as] an attempt to exorcise Fuseli’s bitterness against Anna Landolt by punishing her with a dream."1

In total, Fuseli made four versions of this nightmare theme. There is a woodcut version (n.d.) and pencil/watercolor version (1810) that aren't very interesting (they are a little too ridiculous and suggestive for my taste), but I do like this one on the right (1790). I'm really drawn to the small still-life of a glass bottles and small jar on the table; the 1781 painting also has a variant of this still-life. Although the bottles and jars might not contain any significance to the nightmarish theme, I can't help but think of the romantic aspects of tonics and potions. Even if they don't mean anything, I think they add a nice touch to the composition and give Fuseli a chance to show off his painting skills.

Anyhow, there you have it. I thought about Fuseli's The Nightmare while lying in bed last night. It's no wonder that when I actually do fall asleep, my dreams often revolve around art history...

1 Georg Paula and David Blayney Brown. "F├╝ssli." In Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online,, accessed 2 October 2009.