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If Fuseli had met Freud

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If Fuseli had met Freud

Dec. 28 2022

Text: Anna Mar

 

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In the reception room of the great founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, hung a reproduction of the painting “Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli).

The Nightmare, 1781

In the reception room of the great founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, hung a reproduction of the painting “Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli).

The most famous work of this Swiss artist is undoubtedly “Nightmare”, or, to be more precise, a series of four paintings. In these famous oil paintings, Fuseli depicted an incubus seated on a sleeping woman. An incubus is a demon who appears to a woman at night when she is asleep and seduces her (the male equivalent is a succubus). These ‘sexual’ demons are actually a symbol that combines repressed desire and fear of desire. Freud later explained that unwanted sexuality is expressed in our dreams as a nightmare and Füssli figured it out himself much earlier, after studying European folklore: where female demons and male ones torment the hypocritical righteous and their facially virtuous wives with lust at night.

The whole of Fuseli´s work is imbued with a “Freudian” concept. His drawings and paintings are like dreams or fantasies. They are interwoven with bizarre fantastical creatures, the human figures are depicted in an emphatically grotesque and almost all works are erotic in nature.

The Night-Hag visiting the Lapland Witches, 1796

Fuseli not only painted with erotic overtones but also painted pornography, depicting intercourse and genitalia in detail. The dominant position in the intercourse depicted was usually taken by women. Men are depicted in almost a victim position. There is a hypothesis that this was because of the authoritarian wife. She despised the artist for this passion, and personally burnt over 100 of his drawings. Fuseli was in love with another girl in his youth, but life circumstances or careerism led him to marry a gloomy person, who influenced the artist’s manner of painting rigid dominatrixes, ruthlessly manipulating the male body. Freud would call it a fear of being castrated.

Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent, 1790

Fuseli not only explicitly depicted genitals or the sexual act in his work, he also, in the language of psychoanalysis, sublimated erotic experience into appropriate symbolism: the oblong objects in many of his paintings can be seen as phallic symbols.

The Vision of Catherine of Aragon, 1781

Interesting fact: based on all the signs recorded in the reviews of his contemporaries, Fuseli may have suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, which has only recently been recognised as a functional form of autism. He was a cold careerist, devoid of empathy and obsessed with the same subject all his life. For example, the theme of sleep is obsessively found in many of his works.

The Sleepwalking Lady Macbeth

The Incubus Leaving Two Sleeping Women, 1780

Queen Mab, 1814

The Shepherd’s Dream, 1793

Fuseli´s pictorial universe, through his hybrid creatures, monsters, fairies and apparitions, created a new aesthetic, which was atypical and strange for its time, oscillating between phantasmagoria, dream and fantasy.

Lycidas, 1796-1799

Foxylab advises you to catch the exhibition of Fuseli’s work at the Musée Jacquemart-André in Paris before 23 January 2023.

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