The Huntington Acquires Fuseli’s The Three Witches

Posted in exhibitions, museums by Editor on October 9, 2014

Fuseli Three Witches

Henry Fuseli, The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters, ca. 1782, oil on canvas, 25 x 30 inches (San Marino: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens)

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

 Press release (7 October 2014) from The Huntington:

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today the acquisition of one of the best-known compositions by the Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741–1825). In private hands since its creation around 1782, The Huntington’s version of Fuseli’s The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters appears to be a finished, full-size study, presumably made before the two other known full-size, final versions Fuseli made of the subjects. These are in the collections of the Kunsthaus Zurich, and the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon, England. After months of conservation treatment at The Huntington, the new acquisition will go on public view for the first time on October 11 in the Huntington Art Gallery.

“Given the fame of The Huntington’s collection of 18th-century British paintings, it may come as a surprise that we did not already have a painting by Henry Fuseli—one of the most celebrated, notorious, and inventive artists of the period,” said Kevin Salatino, Hannah and Russel Kully Director of the Art Collections at The Huntington. “Finally we do, and a great one, a picture full of mystery and suspense. Its powerful composition packs an incredible punch, second in impact only to the artist’s famous painting The Nightmare at the Detroit Institute of Arts, which is from the same period. The acquisition of The Three Witches now fills a major gap in our collection.”

Acquiring a Fuseli has been a longstanding goal at The Huntington, as the finest examples of his work rarely appear for sale. Catherine Hess, chief curator of European art at The Huntington, said that Fuseli’s work has been sought not only because of his importance to the history of art, but also because of his relationships with Sir Joshua Reynolds and, especially, William Blake, both of whom are well represented in Huntington collections. Also, Fuseli’s fascination with the work of William Shakespeare dovetails with The Huntington’s stature as one of the premiere collections of early Shakespeare folios and quartos in the world. The Three Witches reveals a great deal about how the artist worked, said Hess. “Its surface is thickly textured with paint, and the strokes are varied and energetic, betraying a freedom and immediacy that shows Fuseli at his most experimental and expressive.” The painting depicts the pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth (act 1, scene 3) when the protagonist encounters the demonic trio who foretell his fate.

“Fuseli revels in the play’s ominous mood, isolating and tripling the motif of hooded head, extended hand, and sealed lips,” said Hess. The witches’ mannish features are taken directly from the playwright’s description: “… you should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.” They may also have been modeled on the male actors who would have played them on stage in Fuseli’s day.

The Huntington’s painting includes a gilded frame (likely added by early owners) with a quote from Aeschylus’ ancient tragedy, The Eumenides: “These are women but I call them Gorgons.” The quote also appears written on the reverse of the painting and was almost certainly provided by Fuseli, who prided himself on his erudition.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

R E L A T E D  I N S T A L L A T I O N S

Wrestling with Demons: Fantasy and Horror in European Prints and Drawings from The Huntington’s Art Collections
The Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, CA, 30 August — 15 December 2014

This focused exhibition explores the darker side of the imagination through a variety of works on paper depicting death, witchcraft, and the demonic in European art. In this group of 15 works spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries, artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Jan Lievens, Francisco de Goya, and William Holman Hunt tap into human fascination with the macabre in works of art that demonstrate our attempt to wrestle with the unknown.

Eccentric Visions: Drawings by Henry Fuseli, William Blake, and Their Contemporaries
The Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, CA, 22 November 2014 — 16 March 2015

In an age of great drawing, Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) and his circle in Britain helped to push the medium into new areas of expressiveness, invention, and boldness of conception. This small exhibition consists of about 30 works from The Huntington’s exceptional holdings of drawings and watercolors by Fuseli, William Blake, and the artists most closely associated with them, including George Romney, John Flaxman, Joseph Wright of Derby, James Barry, John Brown, and Richard Cosway. It complements the installation of The Huntington’s newly acquired painting by Fuseli, The Three Witches.

Exhibition | Sade: Marquis of Shadows, Prince of the Enlightenment

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on October 9, 2014

To the d’Orsay’s exhibition on the Marquis de Sade we can add this one now on view at the Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits:

Sade: Marquis of Shadows, Prince of the Enlightenment
The Spectrum of Libertinism from the 16th to the 20th Century

Institut des Lettres et Manuscrits, Paris, 26 September 2014 — 18 January 2015

Curated by Pascal Fulacher and Jean-Pierre Guéno

Yes, I am a libertine, I admit it freely. I have dreamed of doing everything that it is possible to dream of in that line. But I have certainly not done all the things I have dreamt of and never shall. Libertine I may be, but I am not a criminal, I am not a murderer.  –Donatien Alphonse François de Sade

Sade and the Spectrum of Libertinism

Donatien Alphonse François de Sade was doubly a man of letters: a great novelist, a great letter writer, but above all a victim of the very special letters that were the lettres de cachet, often commissioned from monarchs or their ministers by the families of those who wanted to have troublesome offspring removed from the public sphere. Even more than the Marquis of Shadows, even more than his escapades and fantasies of debauchery, it was the Prince of the Enlightenment who never ceased to embarrass both his family, who continually persecuted him, his social caste, and the leading figures of his time, to the point where ​​this troublemaker became a kind of literary man in an iron mask who spent more than half his adult life in prison before dying there. Apart from the fact that he was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1768, and twice to death in 1772 and in 1794, De Sade spent nearly twenty-eight years in prison between 1763 and 1814, between the age of 23 and his death at age 74, and this under three different regimes: the Monarchy, the Republic and the Empire. From the tower at Vincennes to Charenton insane asylum, despite the material means he had to improve his everyday life, he lived mostly in “execrable slums,” in a dozen jails including those of Saumur castle, Pierre-Encise citadel in Lyon, For-l’Eveque prison in Paris, Miolans fort in Savoy, the Bastille fortress, Sainte-Pélagie prison and Bicêtre prison in Paris, not forgetting the gaols of the Revolution. During the seventy-four years and six months of his life as in the two centuries that separate us from his death, it may seem paradoxical that we have demonised the Marquis de Sade to such an extent, and that we have for so long mixed the man with his work, to the point of confusing the man and the novelist with the criminal characters in his fiction.

AFFICHES-40x60-SADE-BD.pdfCertainly he was a libertine who indulged in licentious and dissolute sexual practices, but the man who lent his name to today’s definition of the word Sadism, “the tendency to derive pleasure from physical or emotional pain intentionally inflicted on others” would have been just one more profligate among the aristocrats of his time, had he not been primarily the eye of a kind of consciousness that managed to convey not just the pain of living, but the pain of the century” (“mal du siècle”) as defined by Musset in the 19th century: through his escapades and provocations, then through his political writings, as through his philosophical writings, letters and novels, but also by example, or by the counterexample of his life, did Sade ever cease to express the evil that devours men, mostly from the Renaissance to modern times, that is to say, during the second half of the second millennium?

For the last four centuries, are those who call themselves libertines actually Epicureans, delinquents or hyper-aware individuals? Bon vivants, criminals or cursed existentialists? From the Marquis de Sade to Dominique Aury (aka Pauline Réage), author of Histoire d’O (The Story of O), to Théophile de Viau, Crébillon, Choderlos de Laclos and his Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), Mirabeau, Casanova, the Chevalier d’Eon, Musset, Maupassant, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Pierre Louÿs and Joë Bousquet, the great figures of literature, poetry and thought have never ceased to celebrate the cannibalistic wedding of vice and virtue. Vice that feeds on virtue when it transgresses and deflowers it. Virtue that feeds on vice when it denounces and demonises it.

At the boundaries of fantasy, revolution, transgression, emancipation and moral suicide, between the realities of purgatory, the fantasised or dreaded delights of hell and the mythical nostalgia for paradise lost, between cynicism, pragmatism and hope, between Epicureanism and cruelty, between enlightenment and barbarism, between the obsession with God and its denial, do the case studies that adorn the spectrum of libertinism not illustrate the entire tragedy of the human condition, and do they not resemble in this respect all the major intellectual earthquakes of the 19th and 20th centuries, from romanticism to existentialism through surrealism?

The Exhibition

Sade-marquis-de-lombre-prince-des-lumières_catalogue-de-lexpositionLong before becoming a moral emancipation movement, libertinism was a terribly subversive spiritual liberation movement, since it questioned the existence of God, the legitimacy of kings’ rule by divine right, and all the dogmas of religion, morals and absolute power. From the outset, the exhibition reveals “The spectrum of libertinism,” leading the visitor from “libertinism of the spirit to libertinism of morals” through a set of subversive texts including the Decameron by Boccaccio, Pensées (Thoughts) by Pascal, Dom Juan by Molière, Contes et nouvelles (Tales and Novels) by La Fontaine, Les Lettres persanes (Persian Letters) by Montesquieu and La Nouvelle Héloïse (The New Heloise) by J.-J. Rousseau. Libertinage in the time of De Sade is also discussed in the letters and works of Crébillon, Casanova, the Chevalier d’Eon, Restif de la Bretonne, Choderlos de Laclos, Mirabeau and more.

Then, pride of place is given to the Marquis de Sade and his masterpiece, Les 120 journées de Sodome ou l’École du libertinage (The 120 Days of Sodom, of the School of Libertinism): the handwritten scroll on which this still-scandalous novel was written is on display here for the first time ever in France. Several letters by De Sade, to his wife, his mother-in-law, his lawyer, an actress, etc. are also displayed around the scroll, and give a better understanding of this enigmatic and highly controversial figure.

The last two parts of the exhibition shed light on the rehabilitation of the Marquis de Sade and his work, as well as the development of libertinism in the 19th and 20th centuries, from romanticism to surrealism through existentialism. The exhibition Sade: Marquis de l’ombre, prince des Lumières, L’éventail des libertinages du XVIe au XXe siècle also features over 120 exceptional pieces, letters and autograph manuscripts,  first editions and rare, valuable illustrated books, drawings, photographs, etc.

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

From Flammarion:

Gonzague Saint Bris and Marie-Claire Doumerg-Grellier, Sade: Marquis de L’Ombre, Prince des Lumières, L’Eventail des Libertinages (Paris: Flammarion, 2014), 176 pages, ISBN: 978-2081353817, 29€.

Consacré à l’histoire du libertinage, cet album en lien avec l’exposition du même titre, rassemble et présente lettres, manuscrits, livres rares et précieux, portraits et dessins érotiques consacrés aux «Cent vingt journées de Sodome» du marquis de Sade.

%d bloggers like this: