Johann Heinrich Füssli

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Füssli in conversation with Johann Jakob Bodmer (1778–1781)
Probably the best known work by Füssli Nachtmahr exists in different versions.
Johann Heinrich Füssli (Henry Fuseli), steel engraving after a portrait by G. Herlowe
Johann Heinrich Füssli - Loneliness at Daybreak (1794–1796), Kunsthaus Zürich
Parzival frees Belisane from Urma's spell , Tate Britain
Hephaestus, Bia and Krato tie Prometheus to the Caucasus (approx. 1800–1810), Auckland Art Gallery

Johann Heinrich Füssli RA (born February 7, 1741 in Zurich , † April 16, 1825 in Putney near London ) was a Swiss-English painter and publicist who became known in England as Henry Fuseli .


Johann Heinrich Füssli was a son of the painter and writer Johann Caspar Füssli (1707–1782) and his wife Elisabeth Waser. His sisters Elisabeth and Anna Füssli later became flower painters . Füssli received his first artistic lessons from his father, whose love for art and literature carried over to his son. He later dealt with the writings of his friend Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768) several times, most recently rather critically.

Füssli first studied theology and gained a good knowledge of the old and new languages, but also devoted himself to painting, whereby he was influenced by Johann Jakob Bodmer , who taught him the works of Homer , Dante Alighieri , William Shakespeare and John Milton . In 1761 he was ordained as an Evangelical Reformed clergyman. At the age of 20 he became a pastor in Zurich, but had to leave Zurich in 1763 after working on a pamphlet against Felix Grebel , then governor of Grüningen , and stayed for some time with the theologian Johann Joachim Spalding in Barth (Western Pomerania).

Became known through the translation of some of Shakespeare's plays with the English ambassador in Berlin, he went to London in 1765 at his instigation. Here, too, he first worked as a translator for various publishers. In 1767 he met Joshua Reynolds , who advised him to swap the nib for the brush. In 1770 Füssli went to Rome, where he met Anton Raphael Mengs . There he studied not only the antiquities but also the works of Michelangelo . When he returned to London in 1779, he was already a celebrated artist there alongside Reynolds and Benjamin West . In 1788 he was accepted into the Royal Academy of Arts . In 1788 he married Miss Rawlins and they moved to No. Queen Anne Street. 72 (later Fowley Street). In 1790 Füssli submitted his oil painting “Thor's Battle with the Midgard Serpent” to the Royal Academy as a diploma thesis, which was accepted and with which he was elected as an RA (full member) on February 10th. 1799–1805 and again from 1810 to 1825 he was Professor of Painting. From 1804 to 1825 he was also keeper of the Academy, where he was through the intervention of George III. in place of the originally nominated Robert Smirke was installed in this office. Now he also devoted himself to the elaboration of various writings on painting.

On Sunday, April 10, 1825, Füssli was in Putney Hill with the Countess of Guildford and had to cancel his appointment for the evening with Mr. Samuel Rogers in London. On Monday his doctors Mr. Alexander Chrichton and Dr. Holland called in, but they could not name his illness. On Wednesday he spoke to Mr. John Knowles, who also became his executor, and passed away the next day. The remains were transferred from Putney Hill to Somerset House. On April 25, he was buried in a crypt in the southern crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral near his friends Sir Joshua Reynolds and John Opie .


The painter

In his work, Füssli repeatedly addresses the world of dreams and visions, often of horror , and he is inspired by English ghost stories. In his pictures, the concrete world of the outside loses its fascination with the world of the subject ( Der Nachtmahr or Der Alp in several versions around 1781).

Füssli created nine paintings for Boydell 's Shakespeare Gallery and a cycle of 47 paintings for John Milton's Paradise Lost . Other works include: The Confederation of Founders of Swiss Freedom (on Zurich City Hall); Theseus, taking leave of Ariadne at the entrance to the labyrinth ; Train of the shadows in the Elysium, according to Lukian's description ; The three confederates swearing on the Rütli and Ugolino in the hunger tower .

The writer

  • In his traditional poems in the 1760s, Füssli sets the tone of Sturm und Drang .
  • General flower harvest of the Germans.
First part. The sacred song. Odes and elegies. Orell, Gessner, Füßli and Comp., Zurich 1782 ( digitizedhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A10105935~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
Second part. Continuation of the sacred song. Orell, Gessner, Füßli and Comp., Zurich 1782 ( digitizedhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A10105936~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
Third part. Odes and elegies. Orell, Gessner, Füßli and Comp., Zurich 1783 ( digitizedhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A10105937~SZ%3D~ double-sided%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
Fourth part. Songs. Orell, Gessner, Füßli and Comp., Zurich 1784 ( digitized versionhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A10105938~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).
Fifth part. Songs. Orell, Gessner, Füßli and Comp., Zurich 1784 ( digitized versionhttp: //vorlage_digitalisat.test/1%3D~GB%3D~IA%3D~MDZ%3D%0A10105939~SZ%3D~doppelseiten%3D~LT%3D~PUR%3D ).

The Publisher

  • Johann Winckelmann's news of the latest Herculan discoveries : To Hn. Heinrich Fueßli from Zurich. Waltherische Hofbuchhandlung, Dresden 1764 ( digitized version , Bavarian State Library).
  • The collection of the best German prose writers and poets. One hundred and eighty and seventyth parts. Friedrich Matthissons poems. Christian Gottlieb Schmieder, Carlsruhe 1792 ( digitized version , Bavarian State Library).
  • Letters from Bonstetten to Matthisson . Orell, Füßli and Comp. , Zurich 1827 ( digitized version , Bavarian State Library).



  • Genie und Wahn , film about the painter and writer Johann Heinrich Füssli with music by GF Handel (director: Gaudenz Meili ), 1996

Individual evidence

  1. Philipp Gonon: Education for sublimity or exploration of an educational triad: Bodmer, Füssli and Homer in the self-portrait of the "Wild Swiss" . In: Pedagogy and Politics, Historical and Current Perspectives . Edited by C. Crotti, W. Herzog, Ph. Gonon, Bern 2007
  2. Christoph Vitali (Ed.): Ernste Spiele. The Spirit of Romanticism in German Art 1770–1990 , Stuttgart 1995, p. 649
  3. Thor battering the Midgard Serpent
  4. John Knowles
  5. ^ Henry Fuseli, pp. 202–203 in: John Timbs: Anecdote lives of William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, Henry Fuseli, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and JMW Turner . Publisher: Richard Bentley & Sons, London 1887
  6. ^ Film about Johann Heinrich Füssli by Gaudenz Meili , accessed on October 7, 2018
  7. Georges Waser, “Genie und Wahn” and the inner eye - Gaudenz Meili's homage to JH Füssli, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 12./13. April 1997, no.84.

Web links

Commons : Johann Heinrich Füssli  - Collection of images, videos and audio files