FUSELI, John Henry
(b. 1741, Zurich, d. 1825, London)

The Nightmare

1780-81
Oil on canvas, 77 x 64 cm
Goethe-Museum, Frankfurt

Fuseli did a total of four variations on The Nightmare, probably his best-known theme. The example in Frankfurt is the second variation. Though the motif was not inspired by any specific literary model, it would be unthinkable without a knowledge of ghost stories, especially English ones. The figure of the woman lying asleep or unconscious is extremely elongated and distorted, not because Fuseli could do no better, but in order to visualize the horrible oppressiveness of the gnome crouched on the woman's breast, a nightmare and incarnation of unconscious terrors. In the gap between the curtains in the background appears the ghostly head of a blind horse, which anticipates the demoniac aspect given this animal especially in later French Romanticism.