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Henry Fuseli (German: Johann Heinrich Füssli) (February 7, 1741 – April 17, 1825) was a British painter, draughtsman, and writer on art, of German-Swiss origin.
He was born in Zürich, Switzerland, the second of eighteen children. His father was Johann Caspar Füssli, a painter of portraits and landscapes, and author of Lives of the Helvetic Painters. He intended Henry for the church, and sent him to the Caroline of Zurich, where he received an excellent classical education. One of his schoolmates there was Johann Kaspar Lavater, with whom he became close friends.
After taking orders in 1761 Fuseli was forced to leave the country as a result of having helped Lavater to expose an unjust magistrate, whose powerful family sought revenge. He first travelled through Germany, and then, in 1765, visited England, where he supported himself for some time by miscellaneous writing. Eventually, he became acquainted with Sir Joshua Reynolds, to whom he showed his drawings. Following Sir Joshua's advice he devoted himself wholly to art. In 1770 he made an art-pilgrimage to Italy, where he remained till 1778, changing his name from Füssli to Fuseli, because it was more Italian-sounding.
Early in 1779 he returned to Britain, taking in Zürich on his way. He found a commission awaiting him from Alderman Boydell, who was then organising his famous Shakespeare Gallery. Fuseli painted a number of pieces for Boydell, and published an English edition of Lavater's work on physiognomy. He likewise gave William Cowper some valuable assistance in preparing a translation of Homer. In 1788 Fuseli married Sophia Rawlins (originally one of his models), and he soon after became an associate of the Royal Academy. The early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, whose portrait he had painted, planned a trip with him to Paris, but after Sophia's intervention the Fuselis door was closed to her forever. Two years later he was promoted to Academician.
In 1799 Fuseli exhibited a series of paintings from subjects furnished by the works of John Milton, with a view to forming a Milton gallery corresponding to Boydell's Shakespeare gallery. There were 47 Milton paintings, many of them very large; they were completed at intervals in the space of nine years. The exhibition, which closed in 1800, proved a commercial failure. In 1799 Fuseli was also appointed professor of painting to the Academy. Four years afterwards he was chosen as keeper, and resigned his professorship; but he resumed it in 1810, and continued to hold both offices until his death. In 1805 he brought out an edition of Pilkington's Lives of the Painters, which did little for his reputation.
Antonio Canova, when on his visit to England, was much taken with Fuseli's works, and on returning to Rome in 1817 caused him to be elected a member of the first class in the Academy of St Luke. Fuseli, after a life of uninterrupted good health, died at Putney Hill, at the advanced age of eighty-four, and was buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral. He was comparatively rich at his death.
As a painter, Fuseli favoured the supernatural. He pitched everything on an ideal scale, believing a certain amount of exaggeration necessary in the higher branches of historical painting. In this theory he was confirmed by the study of Michelangelo's works and the marble statues of the Monte Cavallo, which, when at Rome, he liked to contemplate in the evening, relieved against a murky sky or illuminated by lightning. The violent and intemperate action which he often displays, in the conventional wisdom, destroys the grand effect of many of his pieces. A striking illustration of this occurs in his famous picture of "Hamlet breaking from his Attendants to follow the Ghost": Hamlet, it has been said, looks as though he would burst his clothes with convulsive cramps in all his muscles.
On the other hand, his paintings are never either languid or cold. His figures are full of life and earnestness, and seem to have an object in view which they follow with intensity. Like Rubens he excelled in the art of setting his figures in motion. Though the lofty and terrible was his proper sphere, Fuseli had a fine perception of the ludicrous. The grotesque humour of his fairy scenes, especially those taken from A Midsummer-Night's Dream, is in its way not less remarkable than the poetic power of his more ambitious works.
As a colourist Fuseli has but small claims to distinction. He scorned to set a palette as most artists do; he merely dashed his tints recklessly over it. Not infrequently he used his paints in the form of a dry powder, which he hastily combined on the end of his brush with oil, or turpentine, or gold size, regardless of the quantity, and depending on accident for the general effect. This recklessness may perhaps be explained by the fact that he did not paint in oil until he was twenty-five years of age. Despite these drawbacks he possessed the elements of a great painter.
Fuseli painted more than 200 pictures, but he exhibited only a minority of them. His earliest painting represented "Joseph interpreting the Dreams of the Baker and Butler"; the first to excite particular attention was The Nightmare, exhibited in 1782. He painted two versions, shown in the Nightmare article. Themes seen in "The Nightmare" were repeated in his 1796 painting, "Night-Hag visiting the Lapland Witches."
His sketches or designs numbered about 800; they have admirable qualities of invention and design, and are frequently superior to his paintings. In his drawings, as in his paintings, his method included deliberately exaggerating the due proportions of the parts and throwing his figures into contorted attitudes. One technique involved setting down arbitrary points on a sheet, which then became the extreme points of the various limbs—rather like creating a constellation from the unintentional relations of stars. Noteable examples of these drawings were made in concert with George Richmond when the two artists were together in Rome.
He rarely drew the figure from life, basing his art on study of the antique and Michelangelo. He produced no landscapes—"Damn Nature! she always puts me out," was his characteristic exclamation—and painted only two portraits.
His general powers of mind were large. He was a thorough master of French, Italian, English and German, and could write in all these tongues with equal facility and vigour, though he preferred German as the vehicle of his thoughts. His writings contain passages of the best art-criticism that English literature can show. The principal work is his series of Lectures in the Royal Academy, twelve in number, commenced in 1801.
Many interesting anecdotes of Fuseli, and his relations to contemporary artists, are given in his Life by John Knowles (1831). He influenced the art of Fortunato Duranti.
Time in England
In 1788 Fuseli started to write essays and reviews for the Analytical Review. With Thomas Paine, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley, Erasmus Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and other men and women interested in art, literature and politics, Fuseli frequented the home of Joseph Johnson, a publisher and prominent figure in radical British political and intellectual life. He also visited Allerton Hall in Liverpool, the home of William Roscoe.
When Louis XVI was executed in France in 1793, he condemned the revolution as despotic and anarchic, although he had first welcomed it as a sign of "an age pregnant with the most gigantic efforts of character." In 1799 he was appointed professor of painting at the Royal Academy, and keeper of the Academy in 1804. Among his pupils were John Constable (1776-1837), the major English landscape painter of his time, Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), William Etty (1787-1849), and Edwin Landseer (1802-73), who first exhibited at the age of twelve. William Blake, who was sixteen years his junior, recognised a debt to him, and for a time many English artists copied his mannerisms.
Painting is a mode of expression and the forms are numerous. Drawing, composition or abstraction and other aesthetics may serve to manifest the expressive and conceptual intention of the practitioner. Paintings can be naturalistic and representational (as in a still life or landscape painting), photographic, abstract, be loaded with narrative content, symbolism, emotion or be political in nature. Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, colour or other medium to a surface (support base). In art, the term describes both the act and the result, which is called a painting. Paintings may have for their support such surfaces as walls, paper, canvas, wood, glass, lacquer, clay or concrete. Paintings may be decorated with gold leaf, and some modern paintings incorporate other materials including sand, clay, and scraps of paper. A portion of the history of painting in both Eastern and Western art is dominated by spiritual motifs and ideas; examples of this kind of painting range from artwork depicting mythological figures on pottery to Biblical scenes rendered on the interior walls and ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, to scenes from the life of Buddha or other scenes of eastern religious origin.
Among the continuing and current directions in painting at the beginning of the 21st century are Monochrome painting, Hard-edge painting, Geometric abstraction, Appropriation, Hyperrealism, Photorealism, Expressionism, Minimalism, Lyrical Abstraction, Pop Art, Op Art, Abstract Expressionism, Colour Field painting, Neo-expressionism, Collage, Intermedia painting, Assemblage painting, Computer art painting, Postmodern painting, Neo-Dada painting, Shaped canvas painting, environmental mural painting, traditional figure painting, Landscape painting, Portrait painting, and paint-on-glass animation.
Developments in Eastern painting historically parallel those in Western painting, in general, a few centuries earlier. African art, Islamic art, Indian art, Chinese art, and Japanese art each had significant influence on Western art, and, eventually, vice-versa.
The oldest known paintings are at the Grotte Chauvet in France, claimed by some historians to be about 32,000 years old. They are engraved and painted using red ochre and black pigment and show horses, rhinoceros, lions, buffalo, mammoth or humans often hunting. However the earliest evidence of painting has been discovered in two rock-shelters in Arnhem Land, in northern Australia. In the lowest layer of material at these sites there are used pieces of ochre estimated to be 60,000 years old. Archaeologists have also found a fragment of rock painting preserved in a limestone rock-shelter in the Kimberley region of North-Western Australia, that is dated 40 000 years old. There are examples of cave paintings all over the world—in France, Spain, Portugal, China, Australia, India etc.
In Western cultures oil painting and watercolor painting are the best known media, with rich and complex traditions in style and subject matter. In the East, ink and colour ink historically predominated the choice of media with equally rich and complex traditions.
Different types of paint are usually identified by the medium that the pigment is suspended or embedded in, which determines the general working characteristics of the paint, such as viscosity, miscibility, solubility, drying time, etc.
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