The Drawings of Henry Fuseli

The Drawings of Henry Fuseli

The Drawings of Henry Fuseli

The Drawings of Henry Fuseli


'Those who are only acquainted with Fuseli through his paintings know little of the extent of his genius; they should see him in his designs and drawings, to feel his powers and know him rightly.' --ALLAN CUNNINGHAM

'Oh, I found Color a coy mistress, so I left her.' --HENRY FUSELI

Turning over the pages of an album of Fuseli drawings, a certain curiosity is aroused, and at the same time, a mystification takes hold until one is compelled to ask, who is this Fuseli? Never was there artist whose background more intimately explained his work, nor one to whom the physical environment was more important.

After dissolving some of the obscurity that veils the work of this undoubtedly curious artist, having in this way travelled through to the hinterland that was Fuseli himself, and then read again the drawings, the traveller's tale is no longer so dimly understood, and the scenes depicted appear in their true value and with compelling interest.

In speaking of Fuseli, curiosity, mystification, and obscurity are terms that at once spring to the mind. There is in him a factor of horror and yet of grandeur, of splendours coupled with theatricality and uncertainty, but also a false heroism and facile symbolism, the latter perhaps betraying a weakness of ability and execution, for he is one of those whose artistic ambition and imagination were far in advance of his technical abilities. Every artist must say with Steer, 'I think painting what one cannot do, although paradoxical, the only thing worth doing,' but there are few whose results on paper fall clearly short of their intentions, and among them is Fuseli. One exclaims readily enough: 'Rubens is drawing an arm,' or 'Alexander Cozens has smudged in a landscape,' but with Fuseli it so often must be: 'He is trying to inspire terror.' It is plain that it is not enough to judge him from his performance, there is more to him than the face value of his works, and that demands an explanation, for without it he is himself an enigma.

Henry Fuseli was born Johann Heinrich Füssli at Zurich in 1741 and, always touchy about his age like other men who know themselves attractive to women, changed the date in a German memoir on his life to 1745. As for the month, he once exclaimed in pique, 'How should I know? I was born in February or March--it was some cursed cold month, as you may guess from my diminutive stature and crabbed disposition.'

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