“The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli explores the secret alleyways of the human mind where sex and fear illicitly meet. The painting’s exact meaning has been debated for centuries, but its erotic innuendo, ominous overtones and title suggest that the sleeping woman is helplessly gripped by terror. Prior to this work, Fuseli’s (1747 – 1825) strong literary scenes were well-received during exhibitions at London’s Royal Academy. His entire reputation was at stake when he revealed “The Nightmare.” Criticized and lauded, it established Fuseli’s artistic popularity and became his most famous painting.
When Henry Fuseli (1747 – 1825) envisioned horrifying and grotesque subjects, he saw only beauty. A leading Romantic artist who originally trained to be a priest, Fuseli adored Michelangelo, whose style he imitated throughout his career. Scenes from Shakespeare and Milton dominated Fuseli’s works, depicted in his intense, imaginative style. He is best known for “The Nightmare,” a sinister, erotic piece that cemented his popularity and has been extensively reproduced. An artist whose concepts were ahead of his time, Fuseli powerfully influenced the Expressionists and Surrealists.