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Henry Fuseli RA (1741 - 1825)

RA Collection: People and Organisations

A Swiss artist known for fantastical paintings inspired by classic literature, Henry Fuseli served as Keeper of the RA Schools for 21 years. He was a friend of William Blake, who made engravings of several of his works. Fuseli oversaw the education of many students in the RA Schools including John Constable, Benjamin Haydon, William Etty, and Edwin Landseer.

Henry Fuseli was born Henry Füssli in Zurich, Switzerland. The son of a painter and author Johann Caspar Füssli, Fuseli showed an interest in art at a young age, but his father persuaded him to become a minister. He completed his training and was ordained in 1761, but abandoned the priesthood soon after.

In 1764 Fuseli travelled to London, where he met the Royal Academy’s first President, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged his artistic ambitions. Between 1770 and 1778 Fuseli studied and worked in Rome—where he italianised his name to Fuseli. After a short stay in Zurich he returned to London in 1779.

Fuseli’s best-known work, The Nightmare, was first exhibited at the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition in 1782. Depicting a woman asleep with a malevolent imp crouched on her chest, the painting is characteristic of Fuseli’s imaginative style. In 1783 an engraving was made of the work, which helped to popularise the image and encouraged Fuseli to continue painting variations on this theme.

Throughout the 1780s and 1790s, Fuseli was commissioned by the publisher John Boydell to paint scenes from Shakespeare’s plays for Boydell’s short-lived Shakespeare Gallery, which opened in London in 1789. Fuseli had at least nine works exhibited in the gallery, depicting scenes from plays including Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. Inspired by this venture, Fuseli began work on a series depicting scenes from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and opened his own Milton Gallery to exhibit them in 1799. Both galleries aimed to profit from selling prints of the works on display, but failed to generate enough income and closed in the early 1800s.

Fuseli was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1788 and a full Academician in 1790. His Diploma Work (given to the RA on his election) depicts a scene from Nordic mythology, Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent.

Fuseli served as Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy Schools between 1799-1805, and 1810-1825 and was also Keeper of the Schools from 1804 until his death in 1825.


Royal Academician

Born: 6 February 1741 in Zürich, Switzerland

Died: 16 April 1825

Nationality: Swiss

Elected ARA: 3 November 1788

Elected RA: 10 February 1790

Keeper from: 1804 - 1825

Professor of Painting: 1799 - 1805

Professor of Painting: 1810 - 1825

Gender: Male

Preferred media: Painting

Works by Henry Fuseli in the RA Collection

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Works after Henry Fuseli in the RA Collection

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Works associated with Henry Fuseli in the RA Collection

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Associated books

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Associated archives

58 results