Swiss-born painter, draughtsman, and writer on art, active mainly in England, where he was one of the outstanding figures of the Romantic movement.
He was the son of a portrait painter, Johann Caspar Fussli (1707-82), but he originally trained as a priest; he took holy orders in 1761, but never practised. In 1765 he came to London at the suggestion of the British Ambassador in Berlin, who had been impressed by his drawings. Reynolds encouraged him to take up painting, and he spent the years 1770-78 in Italy, engrossed in the study of Michelangelo, whose elevated style he sought to emulate for the rest of his life. On his return he exhibited highly imaginative artworks such as The Nightmare (Detroit Institute of Arts, 1781), the picture that secured his reputation when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1782 (there is another version in the Goethe-museum, Frankfurt). An unforgettable image of a woman in the throes of a violently erotic dream, this oil painting shows how far ahead of his time Fuseli was in exploring the murky areas of the psyche where sex and fear meet.
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