Johann Heinrich Fussli, the son of a portrait painter, Johann Caspar Füssli (1707-82) was born in Zurich in 1741;
he moved to England and later changed his name to Henry Fuseli.
Originally trained as a priest; he took holy orders in 1761, but never practised. In 1765 he came to London at the
suggestion of the British Ambassador in Berlin, who had been impressed by his drawings. Reynolds encouraged him
to tape up painting, and he spent the years 1770-78 in Italy, engrossed in the study of Michelangelo, whose elevated
style he sought to emulate for the rest of his life. On his return he exhibited highly imaginative works such as The
Nightmare, the picture that secured his reputation when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1782 (there is another
version in the Goethe-museum, Frankfurt). An unforgettable image of a woman in the throes of a violently erotic dream,
this painting shows how far ahead of his time Fuseli was in exploring the murky areas of the psyche where sex and
fear meet. His fascination with the horrifying and fastastic also comes out in many of his literary subjects, which
formed a major part of his output. The London theatre, and in particular the productions of Shakespeare, charged his
imagination and over the years he painted, etched and drew numerous scenes from the plays. After a prolific and
successful career as an artist in England, he died in 1825.