Wake Up to a Gothic Dream; Sally Hoban Takes a Look at Collecting Opportunities in the World of Gothic Art and Books Based on a New Exhibition at Tate Britain

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Byline: Sally Hoban

A new exhibition called Gothic Nightmares is just about to open at Tate Britain exploring the work of the English artists Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) and William Blake (1757-1827) in the context of the "Gothic", the taste for fantastic and supernatural themes which dominated British culture from around 1770 to 1830.

Featuring over 140 works by these artists and their contemporaries, the exhibition will provide visitors and collectors with a vivid image of a period of English history characterised by cultural turmoil and daring artistic invention.

The Gothic has had an enduring influence as both a literary phenomenon and among collectors. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein (1818) and the books of Matthew "Monk" Lewis, William Beckford and Ann Radcliffe are still widely read and early editions of these books are rare and valuable today.

The work of modern Gothic-style novelists including Angela Carter, Patrick McGrath and Toni Morrison are also highly regarded and first editions of these books are already collectable.

The Gothic continues to influence film and TV (perhaps epitomised in the classic film Nosferatu from 1922) and contemporary visual artists like Glenn Brown and the Chapman brothers produce work with nightmarish themes.

This exhibition will be the first to explore the roots of this phenomenon in the visual arts of the late 18th and early 19th centuries and will no doubt provide an excellent reference point for those who are thinking of starting a collection of art, drawings or prints from this period or those who are already lucky enough to own a William Blake etching or two.

At the centre of the exhibition is Henry Fuseli's famous picture The Nightmare, dating from 1781 (Detroit Institute of Arts).

Ever since it was first exhibited to the public in 1782, this picture has been an icon of horror. It shows a woman lying supine in her boudoir, oppressed by a foul imp while a ferocious-looking horse glares on.

The painting draws on folklore and popular culture, medicine, concepts of the imagination, and classical art to create a new kind of highly-charged horror image.

In terms of imagery it reflects the nightmarish visions conjured up by the etchings of the great Spanish artist Goya, one of Fuseli's contemporaries.

This will be the most extensive display of Fuseli's art seen in Britain since 1975 and includes many works that haven't been exhibited in this country before.

It will feature the very best examples of his paintings and drawings, including The Weird Sisters (Kunsthaus, Zurich), two magnificent canvases showing Titania and Bottom from The Midsummer Night's Dream (Kunstmuseum, Winterthur and Tate) and Macbeth and the Armed Head (Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington), as well as some of his rarely-seen erotic designs.

A selection of works by Fuseli's contemporaries and followers, dealing with themes of fantasy, horror and sexuality, will complement his work.

This will include over 25 exceptional watercolours and paintings by the visionary artist William Blake, among which will be The Night of Enitharmon's Joy, The House of Death c.1795' his vampire-like Ghost of a Flea, The Whirlwind: Ezekial's Vision c.1803-5' The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel 1783 and Death on a Pale Horse c. …