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Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism


This catalogue accompanies the first exhibition devoted to a fascinating group of drawings by the Anglo-Swiss Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), one of eighteenth-century Europe’s most idiosyncratic, original and controversial artists.



Best known for his notoriously provocative painting The Nightmare, Fuseli energetically cultivated a reputation for eccentricity, with vividly stylised images of supernatural creatures, muscle-bound heroes, and damsels in distress. While these convinced some viewers of the greatness of his genius, others dismissed him as a charlatan, or as completely mad.


Fuseli’s contemporaries might have thought him even crazier had they been aware that in private he harboured an obsessive preoccupation with the figure of the modern woman, which he pursued almost exclusively in his drawings. Where one might have expected idealised bodies with the grace and proportions of classical statues, here instead we encounter figures whose anatomies have been shaped by stiff bodices, waistbands, puffed sleeves, and pointed shoes, and whose heads are crowned by coiffures of the most bizarre and complicated sort. Often based on the artist’s wife Sophia Rawlins, the women who populate Fuseli’s graphic work tend to adopt brazenly aggressive attitudes, either fixing their gaze directly on the viewer or ignoring our presence altogether. Usually they appear on their own, in isolation on the page; sometimes they are grouped together to form disturbing narratives, erotic fantasies that may be mysterious, vaguely menacing, or overtly transgressive, but where women always play a dominant role. Among the many intriguing questions raised by these works is the extent to which his wife Sophia was actively involved in fashioning her appearance for her own pleasure, as well as for the benefit of her husband.


By bringing together more than fifty of these studies (roughly a third of the known total), The Courtauld Gallery will give audiences an unprecedented opportunity to see one of the finest Romantic-period draughtsmen at his most innovative and exciting. Visitors to the show and readers of the lavishly illustrated catalogue will further be invited to consider how Fuseli’s drawings of women, as products of the turbulent aftermath of the American and French Revolutions, speak to concerns about gender and sexuality that have never been more relevant than they are today.


The exhibition showcases drawings brought together from international collections, including the Kunsthaus Zürich, in Zurich, the Auckland Art Gallery in New Zealand, and from other European and North American institutions.

  • October 2022

    Edited by David H. Solkin with Ketty Gottardo

    Contributions by Jonas Beyer, Mechthild Fend, Ketty Gottardo and David H. Solkin

    Paperback, 260 x 215 mm

    168 pages, 75 colour illus.

    About the authors

    David Solkin is Emeritus Professor at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.

    Jonas Beyer is Curator of Drawings at the Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich.

    Mechthild Fend is Professor of Art History at the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main.

    Ketty Gottardo is Martin Halusa Curator of Drawings at The Courtauld Gallery, London.

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-29-8

    e-ISBN: 978-1-914532-11-5

  • Exhibition

    The Courtauld Gallery, London

    13 October 2022 – 8 January 2023


    Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich

    24 February – 21 May 2023

  • In the press

    ★★★★ "a dark, perverse mindset laid bare..."—The Guardian


    ★★★★ "Complex, brilliant, unsettling works..."—The Telegraph


    "Showcasing Fuseli’s graphic invention and abiding strangeness, this deeply intelligent exhibition and its catalogue are a substantial contribution to Fuseli studies."—The Burlington Magazine


    "This show is a charming oddity..."—The Times

    "[Fuseli's drawings] are a record of one man’s psyche, but they also capture the turmoil of the times at large."—Vogue

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