Swiss painter, poet, teacher, critic, translator, ordained Zwinglian cleric, friend and collaborator of Lavater, Fuseli was forced to leave Switzerland for political reasons and eventually arrived in London to work as a translator. Joshua Reynolds encouraged him to study art and from 1770 he spent the next eight years in Rome. Largely self-taught, he nevertheless greatly influenced other artists in Rome with his highly experimental technique. After 1779, Fuseli spent most of his time in England. He was a great admirer of Shakespeare, painting massive canvases of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dream and many works for Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery.

Fuseli's most famous painting, The Nightmare (1781), became an icon of horror and so popular that he painted various other versions: the engraving of one of these is included in Erasmus Darwin's The Botanic Garden. Fuseli became Professor of painting at the Royal Academy in 1799 and Keeper in 1804. Now considered a precursor of Symbolism and Surrealism and as anticipating the Romantic art movement, Fuseli's imaginative interpretation of fantasy, horror and Romantic eroticism coexist with his more conventional work and his influence wide-ranging. Blake acknowledged his influence not only by elaborating his style but with a little doggerel verse:

The only man that ever I knew
Who did not make me almost spew
Was Fuseli:...

Item No. 37
Designed by Henry Fuseli and engraved by William Blake

J.C. Lavater. Aphorisms on Man: translated from the original manuscript of the
Rev. John Casper Lavater, citizen of Zuric.

London: printed for J. Johnson, 1789.

Johann Casper Lavater (1741-1801) was a theology student in Zurich with Fuseli and collaborated with him on the political pamphlet which led to their expulsion from Switzerland. Popular for his mystical writings, Lavater became best known for his Essays on Physiognomy (1789-1798) which was much admired in France, Germany and England, not the least for the illustrations, five of which are by Blake. [Both the 1789-1798 and the 1810 editions are in the Bentley Collection].

Item No. 40
Designed by Henry Fuseli and engraved by William Blake

Erasmus Darwin. The Botanic Garden, a Poem, in two parts. Part I. Containing the economy of vegetation. Part II.  The loves of plants. With philosophical notes.
London: printed for J. Johnson, 1791.

“Fertilization of Egypt”

 Fuseli’s sketch of Anubis was developed by Blake into the bearded rain-god.

Item No. 42

Erasmus Darwin. The Botanic Garden, a Poem, the fourth edition.
London : printed for J. Johnson, 1799.


This engraving represents a version of Fuseli's iconic painting The Nightmare (1781) which created a sensation when exhibited at the Royal Academy in London the following year. The image shows a voluptuous young woman sprawled on her back in sleep with an ugly imp or incubus sitting on her. A wide-eyed staring horse, the "night mare", peers through the spread curtains, leering at, or observing the scene. The clinging night dress, the horse's phallic features, the folds of the curtain and the women's position leave little to the imagination, yet the picture remains an enigma. The painting's imagery quickly became part of Western culture, from the 18th Century caricatures of Rowlandson and Gillray through the vampire inspired scenes of the 19th Century to its recreation in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein film. Modern commentators have interpreted the picture as referring to Fuseli's failed romance with Lavater's niece, Anna Landolt, since a portrait, thought to be of her, was discovered on the back of the canvas.