Exhibition | Shockingly Mad: Henry Fuseli

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 12, 2018

Henry Fuseli, The Discovery, 1767/69, pen and brown ink and brush and brown wash, over graphite with traces of opaque brown paint, on cream laid paper, tipped onto ivory laid paper, 53 × 66 cm (Art Institute of Chicago, 1956.33). From the AIC notes, “This powerful drawing—a bravura exercise in virtuoso line and tonal washes—illustrates a story from Swiss theologian Ludwig Lavater’s book De Spectris (On Ghosts), published in 1569. It describes a priest who, dressed in a sheet, haunts his wealthy niece who is living in his house, in an attempt to rape her and cheat her of her fortune. Terrified, the niece enlists the aid of a friend who exposes the repentant priest. The curious badminton match visible in the background—not in the story, but added by Fuseli as a critical commentary—is a reference to a proverb composed in Latin by the Dutch poet Jacob Cats (1577–1660): ‘Amor ut pila vices exiget’, ‘Love, like a ball, demands reciprocation’.”

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From the AIC:

Shockingly Mad: Henry Fuseli and the Art of Drawing
Art Institute of Chicago, 18 November 2017 — 1 April 2018

Curated by Kevin Salatino

A witness to political revolutions and radical aesthetic shifts, Henry Fuseli (1741–1825) forged a pictorial sensibility of his own, characterized by anatomical, gestural, and psychological extremes. Bizarre, exaggerated, theatrical, and often melodramatic, his drawings embraced obscure literary and historical subjects intended to elicit profound emotional response.

Fuseli was born in Switzerland but traveled to Germany and Italy early in his career, eventually settling in London, where he played a prominent role in the newly established Royal Academy. While he worked in various media, Fuseli excelled at drawing. This medium was central to his practice, evidenced by the extraordinary number of drawings he made—ranging from quick sketches to watercolors that often exceeded the ambitions of his oil paintings.

The Art Institute is home to a remarkably rich collection of Fuseli’s surviving works, including large-scale drawings; smaller, less-finished sketches; and significant paintings and prints. Shockingly Mad: Henry Fuseli and the Art of Drawing considers drawing as an expressive means unto itself, paralleling the broader arc of Fuseli’s career as writer, painter, critic, and teacher. As comparisons to the work of his contemporaries reveal, Fuseli can be said to have forged a radical new drawing style. With roots in Classical antiquity and Renaissance Italy, Fuseli’s passionate, unrestrained approach reflects the revolutionary spirit of his age, which was marked by social and political upheaval. The Art Institute’s holdings are complemented by a number of important local, national, and international loans, and the exhibition itself is accompanied by the adjacent installation Gods and (Super)heroes: Drawing in an Age of Revolution—a selection of drawings by Jacques-Louis David, Théodore Géricault, Francisco Goya, and others that further contextualizes Fuseli as a draftsman.

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