The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Johann Heinrich Fuseli, 1741-1825

Nationality: Swiss
Date of Birth: 1741
Place of Birth: Zurich
Date of Death: 1825
Place of Death: Putney Hill, London


Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli) was a painter, draughtsman and writer. He was the son of Johann Hans Caspar Füssli who was a writer, painter, draughtsman, publisher and teacher, whose own father Hans Rudolf Füssli had also been a painter. His godfather was the poet and artist Salomon Gessner. In 1788 Fuseli married the artist's model Sophia Rawlins.


Fuseli, who showed an early inclination towards theology, literature and moral philosophy, was ordained into the Zwinglian ministry in 1761. However, he received a strict art historical education from his father who acquainted his son with the Neoclassical theories of Johann Joachim Winckelmann and Anton Raphael Mengs. The scholars Johann Jacob Bodmer and Johann Jacob Breitinger introduced him to the writings of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton. Encouraged by Joshua Reynold he decided to follow a career in painting in 1767/68. His style combined a Neoclassical linearity with a Romantic expressiveness influenced by Michelangelo and the Mannerists.

He spent most of his working life in Britain where he became known for his dramatic and macabre images, e.g. The Nightmare (1781; Institute of Arts, Detroit). He made frequently returns to Milton and Shakespeare in his depictions of the supernatural. In 1779 he was appointed Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy and in 1804 he was made Keeper. His pupils included John Constable, Edwin Landseer, William Mulready, Charles Robert Leslie and Benjamin Robert Haydon.

Whistler greatly admired the art of Fuseli as a boy. An pencil, pen and ink drawing of 1855/56, An artist in his studio (M.211), shows a young artist in his studio surrounded by various artistic props including a book on Fuseli.


Fuseli, H., Reflections on the Paintings and Sculptures of the Greeks, London, 1765; Fuseli, H., Remarks on the Writings and Conduct of J.-J. Rousseau, London, 1767; Fuseli, H., Aphorisms, Chiefly Relative to the Fine Arts, London, 1818; Weinglass, D. H. (ed.), The Collected English Letters of Henry Fuseli, New York, 1982; Brown, David Blayney, 'Henry Fuseli', The Grove Dictionary of Art Online, ed. L. Macy, (accessed 1 March 2002).