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

The Nightmare

Oil on canvas, 101 x 127 cm
Institute of Arts, Detroit

Fuseli portrayed a young woman on the back of this painting. If it is true that both images are his beloved Anna Landolt, whose parents refused to allow her to marry him, then the Nightmare can be interpreted as an allegory of disappointment. In that case the grisly ape is the man who is ultimately allowed to "possess" the revered lady with his jealous glance. But it is at the price of her life, and Fuseli shows her sunk down and breathing her last.

Being in the grips of a nightmare is a common occurrence that we can all relate to, but we may never experience one exactly as a particular artist depicts it. Here Fuseli conjures up a terrifying image filled with mystery and panic, yet with a vague and disturbing familiarity. It suggests the way the woman feels in the grip of a demonic nightmare, not what she sees. The Nightmare was reproduced as an engraving; a copy hung in Sigmund Freud's apartment in Vienna in the 1920s.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.