Fuseli, Henry (DNB00)
FUSELI, HENRY (Johann Heinrich Fuessli) (1741–1825), painter and author, born at Zurich in Switzerland, 7 Feb. 1741, was the second son of Johann Caspar Fuessli, painter and lexicographer, and Elisabetha Waser, his wife. The family of Fuessli, still, as for many generations, resident in Zurich, has produced many members distinguished in art, literature, and science. Melchior Fuessli, an ancestor, had distinguished himself for original work. Johann Caspar Fuessli, a pupil of Kupetzky, the portrait-painter, was himself a well-known painter of portraits and landscapes, patronised by the petty royalty of the neighbouring states, and the author of the ‘Lives of the Helvetic Painters.’ His brothers, Heinrich and Johann Rudolf, were also artists, and the latter was the compiler of the ‘Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon;’ each had a son named Heinrich, whose works should be carefully distinguished from those of John Henry Fuseli. Of Johann Caspar's numerous family five survived, including Heinrich; the eldest, Johann Rudolf, became an artist, entered the imperial service at Vienna, and possessed the family taste for lexicography; the youngest, Johann Caspar, was most noted for his achievements in entomology, another science to which the family was addicted; the daughters, Anna and Elisabetha, were noted for their skill in drawing birds and insects. This art-loving family was on intimate terms with the literary circle at Zurich, which claims to have started the romantic movement in general literature, represented by J. J. Bodmer, J. J. Breitinger, and the painter-poet, Salomon Gessner, who stood sponsor to the infant Heinrich. Fuessli was therefore nursed in an atmosphere of romanticism from his earliest days, and showed an early predilection for art. He received some instruction from his father and elder brother, but the father was discouraged by his own experience of an artist's career, and, distrustful of his son's mechanical powers, intended the boy for the clerical profession. Fuseli, however, secretly pursued his studies, and his habit of drawing with his left hand, while his father or tutor was reading aloud, caused him to be ‘ambidexter,’ a faculty which he retained through life. He studied eagerly his father's collection of prints after Michelangelo and other artists, and his childish productions all showed the love of weird fantasy characteristic of his later works. He made drawings to illustrate the old poem of ‘Howleglas,’ and subsequently etched them; and he studied with interest the works of Tobias Stimmer, Jost Amman, and other old Zurich artists. When about twelve his family removed into the country for his mother's health, and art for a time made way among the children for entomology. When he was about fifteen his father placed him at the Collegium Carolinum at Zurich, of which Bodmer and Breitinger were professors. Here he quickly attracted attention by his hot temper, his various extravagances in dress and behaviour, and his immense capacities for mental labour. He rapidly acquired a good knowledge of the English, French, and Italian languages, besides Greek and Latin, and was an ardent student of the works of Shakespeare, Richardson, Milton, Dante, and Rousseau, which, with the Bible, gave plenty of scope to his ever-active pencil. He made several essays in composition, both prose and verse, but never showed any aptitude for mathematics or other abstract sciences. He made many intimate friends, among them Johann Caspar Lavater, the physiognomist, the brothers Johann Jakob and Felix Hess, Leonard Usteri, and others who attained distinction in after life. In 1761 Lavater and Fuessli, whose kindred characters made them the closest of friends, entered into holy orders, and at once made their mark by their attempts to raise the style of pulpit oratory in Zurich. Before they could accomplish much they became involved in a cause which soon agitated the whole town. One Felix Grebel, bailiff of Gruningen, one of the bailiwicks of Zurich, was accused of gross oppression and extortion. The young friends, in August 1762, sent an anonymous letter to Grebel threatening exposure. They next published a pamphlet, entitled ‘The Under-Bailiff, or the Complaints of a Patriot,’ and sent copies to the various members of the government. The authors were summoned to appear; Lavater and Fuessli came forward accordingly and proved their charges. Grebel was disgraced, but, as he was son-in-law of the burgomaster, and had powerful family connections, it was thought advisable for the young patriots to absent themselves for a time from Zurich. J. G. Sulzer, the author of a ‘Theory of the Fine Arts,’ who was about to return to Berlin, where he was professor, offered to take them with him, and in March 1763 Lavater, Fuessli, and the brothers Hess left Zurich. They visited Augsburg, where Fuessli was especially struck with Reichel's colossal statue of St. Michael at the arsenal, proceeded to Leipzig, where they met Ernesti, Gellert, and other celebrities, and reached Berlin to find that their fame had preceded them. Fuessli was at once employed to assist Rode on a set of illustrations to Bodmer's ‘Noachide,’ but after a short stay in Berlin visited Professor Spalding, the theologian, at Barth in Pomerania. At this time there was a desire to establish a channel of literary communication between Germany and England, and through Sulzer's kind agency Fuessli was summoned to Berlin and presented to the British minister, Sir Andrew Mitchell, at whose house, among others, he met Dr. John Armstrong [q. v.], afterwards his intimate friend. Mitchell was impressed by the young man's literary and artistic compositions, and offered to take him to England. Lavater and his other friends accompanied him as far as Göttingen, where he left them, and reached England towards the end of 1763. Thus introduced, he easily obtained access to several persons of importance, notably Mr. Coutts, the banker (who remained his steadfast friend and patron throughout), Millar, the bookseller, and Cadell, his successor, and Joseph Johnson, the well-known radical publisher in St. Paul's Churchyard. At Johnson's dinner-table he met some of the most remarkable persons in art and literature of the day. At first he appears to have thought only of a literary life, and supported life by translating books, although his pencil was never idle. In 1765 Fusseli, as he now called himself, published a translation of Winckelmann's ‘Reflections on the Painting and Sculpture of the Greeks,’ which provoked an animated reply from James Barry [q. v.] He also, at the suggestion of his friend, John Bonnycastle [q. v.], plunged into the controversy then raging between Voltaire and Rousseau, with a spirited pamphlet in defence of Rousseau; the greater part of this impression was accidentally destroyed by fire at Johnson's shop, and not much regretted by the author. In 1766 he became travelling tutor to Viscount Chewton, the eldest son of Earl Waldegrave, but his impetuous nature was not suitable to the office, and in 1767 he returned to London. Happening to obtain an introduction to Sir Joshua Reynolds, he produced a portfolio of his drawings; Reynolds was surprised to find that he had never been in Italy, and also that he was doubtful of his artistic abilities, and urged him most strongly to become a painter. Thus encouraged he devoted himself entirely to drawing, and tried his hand at oil-painting. His first picture, ‘Joseph interpreting the dreams of the butler and baker of Pharaoh,’ was purchased by his friend Johnson; it is now in the possession of Hon. Henry Dudley Ryder. In 1769 he started with Armstrong for a tour in Italy. They sailed for Leghorn, quarrelled during a tedious voyage, and parted upon their arrival. Fuseli (or Fuzely), as the artist now called himself to suit the Italian pronunciation, proceeded alone to Rome, where he arrived on 9 Feb. 1770. Here he remained eight years, studying most energetically the works of the great masters, and above all Michelangelo, by whose great genius he was influenced to an exaggerated degree, much as Spranger and Goltzius had been, though he was fully aware of their mistakes. His abilities gained him many friends and numerous commissions. In 1774 there appeared at the Royal Academy exhibition a drawing of ‘The death of Cardinal Beaufort,’ by—Fuseli at Rome; in 1775, at the exhibition of the Society of Artists at Exeter Change, ‘Hubert yielding to the entreaties of Prince Arthur,’ by Mr. Fuseli at Rome; and in 1777, at the Royal Academy, ‘A Scene in Macbeth,’ by—Fusole at Rome. A book of drawings made by him in Rome (preserved in the print room at the British Museum) contains numerous sketches, embodying many of the ideas from Milton, Dante, and Shakespeare, which he afterwards worked up into his more famous pictures. He visited Venice, Naples, and Pompeii, and on leaving Rome in 1778 returned through Lombardy to Switzerland; here he revisited his family and friends at Zurich, remained there six months, fell in love but was unsuccessful in his suit, and painted a picture of ‘The Confederacy of the Founders of Helvetian Liberty’ for his native town. In 1779 he was back in London, and lodging at 100 St. Martin's Lane with John Cartwright [q. v.], a fellow student with him at Rome. Fuseli renewed his intimacy with his old friends (including Armstrong, who paid him a handsome compliment in his ‘Art of Preserving Health,’ ii. 236), and made several new ones, notably William Lock [q. v.] of Norbury and his son, and Dr. Moore [q. v.], author of ‘Zeluco,’ with whose family he became on terms of special intimacy. In 1780 he again exhibited at the Royal Academy, sending ‘Ezzelin Bracciaferro musing over Meduna, slain by him for disloyalty during his absence in the Holy Land’ (a subject of his own invention, formerly in the Angerstein Collection), ‘Satan starting from the touch of Ithuriel's spear,’ and ‘Jason appearing before Pelias.’ These pictures excited much attention, and obtained a prominent place by the direction of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1781 he painted, and in 1782 exhibited, his picture of ‘The Nightmare,’ which at once took the popular fancy, and insured his future success; he painted several versions of it (one is in the possession of the Earl of Harrowby), and numerous engravings were made from them. A large drawing of this subject is in the print room at the British Museum. In 1781 his father died at Zurich, and in the same year Fuseli painted an interview between himself and his aged tutor, Bodmer, which he sent to Zurich. In 1786 Alderman Boydell [q. v.] started his scheme of a Shakespeare gallery, and invited Fuseli to contribute; such a scheme had occupied Fuseli's mind at Rome when musing in the Sistine Chapel, as is shown by the sketch-book mentioned above. He contributed one small picture and eight large, including ‘Titania and Bottom’ (now in the National Gallery), ‘Macbeth and the Witches,’ and ‘Hamlet and his Father's Ghost;’ the last filled with awe the minds of the spectators, and, though extravagant in its execution, possessed real power. He also painted some pictures for Woodmason's ‘Shakespeare.’ On 30 June 1788 Fuseli married Sophia Rawlins of Bath Easton, near Bath, who is stated to have been one of his models, and often sat to him after marriage; she proved an affectionate and patient, if not very intelligent, wife, to whom he was sincerely attached. He now removed to 72 Queen Anne Street East (now Foley Street), and, in consequence of his marriage, overcame his reluctance to be connected with any associated body of artists, and became a candidate for the Royal Academy. He was elected associate 3 Nov. 1788, and academician 10 Feb. 1790, beating Bonomi [q. v.] on the latter occasion, to the great umbrage of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In 1790 Johnson, the publisher, issued proposals for an edition of Milton's poems, similar to Boydell's ‘Shakespeare;’ Cowper, the poet, was to edit the poems, and Fuseli to paint a series of pictures, to be engraved by Sharp, Bartolozzi, Blake, and other eminent engravers. Cowper's insanity and Boydell's hostility prevented the completion of the work, but Fuseli's mind was fired by the enterprise, and he conceived his ‘Milton Gallery.’ He devoted all his time to painting pictures for it, and on 20 May 1799 opened a gallery of forty pictures, taken from Milton's poems, at the rooms lately vacated by the Royal Academy in Pall Mall. It attracted considerable attention, but it was evident that the fantastic extravagance in which Fuseli's strength lay was unsuited to the stateliness of Milton's poems. The results grievously belied his expectations, and he closed the gallery after two months; in the following year he re-opened it with the addition of seven new pictures, but neither his own efforts nor those of his friends produced satisfactory results. Among the best known of these pictures were ‘The Lazar House’ (now in the possession of Lord North at Wroxton Abbey), ‘Satan calling up his Legions,’ ‘The Bridging of Chaos,’ ‘Satan, Sin, and Death,’ ‘The Night Hag’ (of which there is a large drawing in the print room at the British Museum), ‘The Deluge,’ ‘Lycidas’ (several versions of this exist), ‘Milton dictating to his daughters,’ &c. In 1799 Fuseli succeeded James Barry, R.A. [q. v.], as professor of painting at the Royal Academy, and in March 1801 delivered his first lectures. In December 1804 he succeeded Richard Wilson, R.A. [q. v.], as keeper, and moved from Berners Street, where he was then residing, to Somerset House. He thereby vacated his professorship, but in 1810, on Tresham's resignation, he volunteered to supply the vacancy until a suitable candidate could be found; the Academy then re-elected him to the post, and he continued to hold the joint offices during the remainder of his life. In 1802 he visited Paris in order to study the marvellous collection of works of art brought together by Napoleon, in which he found ample material for his future lectures. The rest of Fuseli's life was mainly occupied in his duties at the Royal Academy, in which he took an unfailing interest. In 1815, through the agency of Canova, a warm admirer, he received the diploma of the Academy of St. Luke at Rome. He remained in full possession of all his faculties up to the end; delivered his last course of lectures in 1825 in his eighty-fourth year; exhibited two pictures that year at the Royal Academy, and left another unfinished on his easel. On Sunday, 10 April 1825, while on a visit at Putney Hill to his friend the Countess of Guilford (daughter of Mr. Coutts), with whom and her daughters he was on terms of great intimacy, Fuseli was taken ill, and died on Saturday, 16 April. His body was removed to Somerset House, and on 25 April was buried in the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, between the graves of Reynolds and Opie. His widow survived him for some years. He left no children.
Fuseli was below middle stature, but well proportioned. His forehead was high, his nose prominent and inclined to be aquiline, his eyes of a bright and penetrating blue; his hair was blanched at an early age by a fever in Italy, and his eyebrows were broad and bushy. He was always careful of his dress and person, and was an abstemious and frugal liver, as well as an early riser. He would often rise at dawn to go out into the country on some favourite entomological pursuit. Lavater, in his ‘Physiognomy’ (ed. 1789), inserts two portraits of Fuseli, one in early life and one from a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence; his reading of Fuseli's character from his features proved very accurate. Fuseli's countenance was remarkably expressive, and he showed in every feature and gesture the rapid and varying impressions of his mind, and the intensity of his emotions. Among other portraits of Fuseli are a profile done at Rome by J. Northcote, R.A. (in the possession of Mr. J. Carrick Moore); a portrait by Williamson done at Liverpool; a portrait by J. Opie, R.A. (who also painted Mrs. Fuseli), now in the National Portrait Gallery; a miniature by Moses Haughton, by some considered the best likeness of him; the well-known portrait by G. H. Harlowe, so familiar from engravings; a drawing by G. S. Newton, R.A.; a sketch by Sir George Hayter in January 1812, now in the print room at the British Museum; and a drawing by Sir Thomas Lawrence done shortly before his death. A bust was executed in Rome in 1778, another is at Wroxton Abbey, and two were done later by E. H. Baily, R.A., one taken after death.
As a painter Fuseli can only be judged by posterity from the wrecks of his great pictures. He suffered throughout from not having adopted the profession until late in life, and his industry and anatomical studies at Rome never compensated for his lack of early and methodical training. His natural impetuosity of temperament rendered him incapable of paying laborious attention to the ordinary technical details of painting. His method of colouring was faulty to an extreme, and his colour, though often fine, was strange, gloomy, and frequently unpleasing. In many of his pictures the lividness of his flesh-tints has been enhanced by the uniform blackness to which time has reduced the shadows. Were it not for the graver of Moses Haughton [q. v.], who lodged with Fuseli at Somerset House, and worked under his personal direction, John Raphael Smith, J. P. Simon, and others, he would be little known. His numerous sketches afford a better insight into his art than his completed pictures, in which the great power of his imagination is sometimes obscured. He sometimes indulged in considerable freedom of subject, but most of these sketches were destroyed. After his death a collection of eight hundred drawings by Fuseli were purchased from his widow by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and subsequently passed into the possession of the Countess of Guilford, but are now dispersed. While endeavouring to tread in the ‘terribil via’ of Michelangelo, he followed the precepts of Lavater in expressing by attitude, gesture, or other movements of the limbs or features, the passions or emotions which he wished to delineate in his characters. The artist most akin to him was William Blake, who engraved some of his drawings; Blake owed a great deal to the friendship of Fuseli, and both entertained a mutual esteem and affection for each other, with undoubted advantage on both sides. Among the pictures painted by Fuseli, in addition to his ‘Milton’ and ‘Shakespeare’ productions, were ‘Perceval delivering Belisane from the enchantment of Urma,’ ‘Œdipus and his daughters’ (now in the Walker Art Gallery at Liverpool), ‘Paolo and Francesca de Rimini,’ ‘Ugolino in the Torre della Fame,’ ‘Dion seeing a Female Spectre overturn his Altars and sweep his Hall,’ ‘Psyche pursued by the Fates’ (at Wroxton Abbey), ‘Queen Mab’ (in the possession of the Earl of Harrowby), ‘Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur,’ ‘William Tell leaping ashore’ (notorious for its exaggerated limbs), ‘Caractacus at Rome,’ ‘The Spirit of Plato appearing to a Student,’ ‘Cæsar's Ghost appearing to Brutus,’ ‘Hercules attacking Pluto,’ ‘Christ and his disciples at Emmaus’ (now in the possession of Lord North at Kirtling Tower, Newmarket), scenes from the Nibelungenlied, &c. Most of these were exhibited at the Royal Academy, to which he contributed sixty-nine pictures in all; many have perished from natural decay or unmerited neglect. He published a few etchings, notably one of ‘Fortune,’ of which the original drawing is in the British Museum, and experimented in lithography. He provided numerous illustrations to the small editions of the poets and classics, Bell's ‘Theatre,’ and other similar works then in vogue. The title of ‘Principal Hobgoblin-Painter to the Devil,’ humorously conferred on him, was neither undeserved nor resented by him.
As a teacher Fuseli was popular among his pupils, in spite of his eccentricities; he was also successful in his method, which seems to have consisted in inspiring his pupils with the desire to learn, rather than in giving them actual technical instruction, according to a favourite precept of his, that time and not the teacher makes an artist. Haydon, in whom Fuseli took great interest, Leslie, Etty, Mulready, and others have testified to his beneficial influence (see Builder, 1864, p. 4, for a similar tribute from a lady pupil). As an author Fuseli has hardly been esteemed as much as he deserves; he was a large contributor to the periodical literature of his day, especially to the ‘Analytical Review;’ he made numerous translations of works for Johnson and other publishers, and later in life few works on art of any importance were issued without a preliminary ‘imprimatur’ from Fuseli's pen, e.g. Blake's illustrations to Blair's ‘Grave.’ He revised Dr. Hunter's translation of Lavater's ‘Physiognomy;’ greatly assisted Cowper in his translation of Homer's ‘Iliad;’ and himself translated Lavater's ‘Aphorisms on Man.’ He also made a collection of ‘Aphorisms on Art’ of his own composition, which were published after his death, and are worth perusing. His lectures, especially the first three, which were published separately in 1801, show a wealth of learning and erudition unusual in an artist. His style, though often grandiose to absurdity, was in the fashion of the time. He indulged the family passion for lexicography by editing and re-editing Pilkington's ‘Dictionary of Painters,’ and by assisting his cousin in completing his uncle Rudolf's ‘Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon.’ His devotion to the family science of entomology lasted through life, and is often evident in his pictures. Fuseli became one of the leading figures in London society, and was esteemed as much for his literary as for his artistic powers; he was an indispensable guest at Johnson the publisher's dinner-table, the resort of the leading radical celebrities of the day, and the circle was not complete without Fuseli's caustic wit and brilliant epigram. He was fearless in avowing his opinions, and when Johnson was imprisoned by the government for alleged sedition, he continued to visit him in prison as before. He made few enemies, and his freedom of speech and criticism, like other failings, became almost privileged.
With ladies Fuseli was a great favourite, and they thoroughly indulged his vanity and worshipped his genius. It may be doubted whether they ever stirred any feelings within him other than those of deep and sincere friendship. Of female beauty he had little appreciation, a fault conspicuous in his pictures. In early life he had a passing flirtation with Mary Moser, afterwards Mrs. Lloyd [q. v.], and with Angelica Kauffmann, R.A. [q. v.], for whom he always entertained feelings of respect and admiration. Later his domestic happiness was endangered by the apparent attempts of Mary Wollstonecraft, afterwards Mrs. Godwin [q. v.], to win his affections, in which affair Fuseli seems to have been not wholly free from blame, although he never showed or entertained any genuine affection for her. His numerous accomplishments and personal qualities fully entitled him to the influential position which he occupied. Anecdotes of his wit, eccentricities, and other peculiarities are innumerable. He was, as might be expected, devoted to the theatre, especially when Shakespeare was being played.[Knowles's Life and Writings of Henry Fuseli; Allan Cunningham's Lives of British Painters; Redgraves' Century of Painters; Art Journal, 1860, 1861; Portfolio, iv. 50; J. T. Smith's Nollekens and his Times, vol. ii.; Gent. Mag. 1825, xcv. 568; Encyclopædia Britannica (9th ed.); Nouvelle Biographie Générale; Fuessli's Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon; Nagler's Künstler-Lexicon; Seubert's Allgemeines Künstler-Lexicon; Builder, 1864, pp. 4, 22; manuscript additions by J. H. Anderdon to illustrated Royal Academy Catalogues in the print room, British Museum; private information].