The Pretty Gentleman
Johan Tobias Sergel, Diomedes (Marble, 1774, 150cm) [NationalMuseum, Stockholm] Sergel was a Swedish sculptor and friends with Henry Fuseli whom he met in Rome in the 1770s. The statue was commissioned for Thomas Mansel Talbot in Italy, and is an example of neo-classicism. The Greek hero, Diomedes, holds a stolen trophy, a statuette of the Greek goddess Athena. Diomedes' theft of the statue leads to the fall of Troy, as Wallace explains to George. The story is in Virgil's 'The Aeneid'.
C. R. Cockerell, 1810. Lord Elgin (1766-1841) was ambassador to Constantinople in 1800, and an antiquarian. On the orders of his private secretary, almost half of the friezes, metopes and sculptures from the Parthenon temple in Athens (then a Turkish fort) were removed and shipped back to England. Between 1807 and 1815 they were housed in a makeshift 'shed' in various locations around in Piccadilly, including Burlington House (now home to the RA). They formed the basis of the British Museum.
'The Ilissos' (c. 430BC, West Pediment, A) [British Museum, London] One of the torso sculptures from the west pediment of the Parthenon. The Ilissos is a river god, named after a river in Athens, flowing to the south of the Acropolis where the Parthenon temple was sited. When Elgin's consignment of sculptures arrived in England, artists were excited by the inherent realism and dynamism of these carving. The twisting torso and complex posture suggest that the god is about to move.
'A Centaur and a Lapith in combat' (South metope, XXXI) [British Museum, London] One of a series of 'metopes', or sculpted slabs (about 1.2m high) that ran all the way around the pediment of the Parthenon temple in Athens, and which Elgin had transported to London. These metopes show centaurs mythical half-man, half-animal figures, engaged in combat with Lapith men from Thessaly, possibly at the wedding of Peirithous, King of the Lapiths, when the centaurs tried to rape the Lapith women.
Benjamin West, 'Pylades and Orestes brought as victims before Iphigenia' (1766) [Tate Gallery, London] Benjamin West was the pre-eminent historical painter of the time, patronized by George III, and later made President of the Royal Academy. West's painting is a good example of the classical style of high art 'history' painting that the Academy expected its students to achieve. Fuseli's brand of classicism is more mannered, expressionistic, even hyperbolic, compared to West, almost 'modern'.
Henry Fuseli, 'Lady Macbeth seizing the daggers' (1812) [Tate gallery, London] Throughout his career, Fuseli painted many scenes from Shakespeare's plays, especially the supernatural and fantastic elements. Fuseli was a major contributor to the printer Joseph Boydell's 'Shakespeare's gallery', opened in 1789 in Pall Mall. Intended to showcase contemporary artists' work, the political capital of Boydell's project, celebrating English artists, against 'foreign' art schools was evident.
Henry Fuseli, 'Ezzelin musing over Meduna' (1780) [Sir John Soane Museum, London]. As the poet Lord Byron was to discover, there is no literary source for the subject of the painting, like 'The Nightmare'. The full title suggests that Fuseli encourages the viewer to imagine a Gothic narrative based around secrecy and infidelity, and which alludes to the 'Bluebeard' tale: 'Ezzelin Musing over the body of his wife Meduna, slain by him for her infidelity during his absence on the crusades'.
Michel "Angelo" Rooker, 'The Gatehouse of Battle Abbey, Sussex' (1792) Rooker was one of the watercolourists exhibiting at the Royal Academy in the late eighteenth century. Especially after the French Revolution which restricted Continental travel, painters toured Britain painting local "picturesque" topography, especially castles, historic ruins and landscapes. Rooker also worked as a scene painter at the Haymarket Theatre.
Claude Lorrain, 'A Sunset or Landscape with the Argus guarding Io' 'Pure as Italian air, calm, beautiful and serene, springs forward the works and with them the name of Claude Lorrain. The golden orient or the amber-coloured ether, the midday ethereal vault and fleecy skies, resplendent valleys, campagnas rich with all the cheerful blush of fertilization, trees possessing every hue and tone of summer's evident heat' (J.M.W. Turner) To see more paintings: www.claudelorrain.org
Henry Fuseli, ' Wolfram introducing Betrand of Navarre to the place where he had confined his wife with the skeleton of her lover' (c.1812-20). An example of one of Fuseli's 'Gothic' paintings, whose source is Queen Margaret of Navarre's 'The Heptameron' (1558). As in the popular gothic novel (1765-1820), Fuseli painted scenes of horror and the supernatural that drew upon medieval, writers and Shakespeare. The secret past hidden in the cellar or attic became a standard motif in gothic.
James Northcote, 'Portrait of Henry Fuseli' (1778) [National Portrait Gallery, London] Henry Fuseli (1741-1825) was Swiss, and the son of the painter and art historian Johann Caspar Fussli. He was friends with the German philosopher, Johann Caspar Lavater, and studied theology in Zurich. Fuseli translated into English Johann Wincklemann's, 'Reflections on the Painting and Sculptures of the Greeks', and he was both Keeper of the Royal Academy and Professor of Painting until 1825.
Henry Fuseli, 'Erotic scene with a man and a woman before a priapic term' (c.1770-78) [Pen, grey wash, ink]. The Greek inscription reads 'Grow large, male progenitor'. This drawing forms part of an early collection of drawings that Fuseli made while in Rome. Whether or not these studies were designed for private pleasure, or were shared, is unresolved. Fuseli's friend, the sculptor, Sergel, made a similar study, Fuseli's contemporaries, including Turner, had cabinets of similar erotica.
Henry Fuseli, 'Half-length figure of a Courtesan with Feathers, a Bow and a Veil in her Hair' (1800-1810) [Pencil, pen and watercolour]. Fuseli made several drawings of courtesans, usually in domestic circumstances, and often highly eroticized. Often verging on the pornographic, these private cabinet of sketches explore the darker aspects of sex, and frequently lesbianism. Fuseli's wife was the model for many of these sketches, including this study.