A portrait of Sophia Fuseli, her Hair in Large Rolls, with Pink Gloves, in front of a Brown Curtain

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism

The Courtauld Gallery
14 Oct 2022 – 8 Jan 2023

High-resolution images: bit.ly/3O41o0w

One of the most original and eccentric artists of the 18th-century, Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), will be the subject of a new exhibition at The Courtauld, opening 14 October 2022.

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism will reveal the artist’s secret lifelong obsession with the female figure through fifty of his strange and striking private drawings, many of which depict the spectacularly extravagant hairdos and fashions of the day. The exhibition will unpick Fuseli’s fascination with female sexuality and the modern woman – as a figure of mystery, transgression, and dangerous allure.

Working at the height of The Enlightenment period, Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli was a libertine and self-proclaimed genius whose experimental and highly idiosyncratic work helped establish a reputation for controversy. Born in Zurich, in 1764 he abandoned the Protestant Reformed church in which he was ordained, to pursue a career in London’s literary world. His talents as a draughtsman and flair for self-promotion brought him to the attention of Joshua Reynolds who encouraged his artistic ambitions to pursue his training. In Rome, in the 1770s, Fuseli established himself as the central figure in an international group of artists who shared his desire to rejuvenate modern art by transforming the classical tradition into something more expressive.

Fuseli’s vividly stylised paintings depicted fantastic and supernatural themes, drawing on Shakespeare, epic poetry, Gothic horror, folklore, and classical dramas, as well as scenes from his own imagination, often polarising public opinion. His most famous painting, The Nightmare (1782) cemented his fame: in 1799 Fuseli was elected Professor of Painting at The Royal Academy and served for 21 years as Keeper of the RA Schools, working and living at Somerset House in what is now The Courtauld Gallery.

While his public paintings often depicted masculine heroes and grand classical subjects, in private this eminent Royal Academician harboured a preoccupation with the figure of the contemporary woman which he drew obsessively in more than 150 works. Often representing his wife Sophia Rawlins, who was a model, these drawings depict the finest details of the extravagant coiffures and latest fashions; at times these modern women appear as figures of disturbing power. The exhibition features fifty examples of Fuseli’s captivating and complex drawings, which provide an insight into late 18th and early 19th century anxieties about gender, identity, and sexuality during a transformative period in European history.

Organised in collaboration with the Kunsthaus Zürich, the exhibition will showcase drawings brought together from international collections and will be accompanied by a catalogue presenting new research. Following its presentation at The Courtauld the exhibition will travel to Zürich, the city where Fuseli was born, on show from 24 February – 21 May 2023.

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism is supported by James Bartos, Olivier and Desiree Berggruen, with additional support from the International Music and Art Foundation and the Tavolozza Foundation.

Fuseli and the Modern Woman: Fashion, Fantasy, Fetishism
14 Oct 2022 – 8 Jan 2023
The Denise Coates Exhibition Galleries

Opening Hours: 10.00 – 18.00 (last entry 17.15)
Weekend tickets from £20, Friends and Under-18s go free

The Courtauld Gallery
Somerset House, Strand
London WC2R 0RN

The Courtauld

Bolton & Quinn
Erica Bolton | erica@boltonquinn.com | +44 (0)20 7221 5000
Daisy Taylor | daisy@boltonquinn.com | +44 (0)20 7221 5000

Download the press release

Fuseli Press Release