The Nightmare (1781) by Johann Heinrich Fussli

The Nightmare - Johann Heinrich Fussli - 1781

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Artwork Information

TitleThe Nightmare
ArtistJohann Heinrich Fussli
MediumOil on Canvas
Dimensions101 x 127 cm
Art MovementRomanticism
Current LocationDetroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI, US
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About The Nightmare

The Nightmare (1781) by Johann Heinrich Füssli, or simply Henry Fuseli, is an iconic painting of a woman in deep sleep with her arms below her, and a demonic-looking incubus crouching on her chest. Set against a dark, gruesome backdrop, this dreamlike and haunting evocation of infatuation and obsession was highly popular in its time. The painting originally depicted the woman being oppressed by a female goblin pressing heavily on the dreamer’s womb as a horse looks on with either blind or visionary eyes. This classic painting conveyed the feeling of nightmares that plagued its viewers in a visually stimulating way.

In due course of the 18th century romanticism wave, Füssli portrays this particular work as an allegory of how a sleeping person can fall victim to frightening intrusions when they least expect it. Intriguingly enough, The Nightmare has also been interpreted as depicting symptoms of sleep paralysis; an inability to move one’s body while they are still conscious during transitions between wakefulness and sleep. All these symbolic connotations make The Nightmare an artwork worthy of analysis and further interpretation beyond the obvious surface images.

Continuing our exploration of iconic artworks from different periods in history, we will be discussing Winter, 1946 by American painter Andrew Wyeth. This specific piece offers us a unique perspective on Wyeth’s works which often depict elements from the rural American culture through his utilization of surrealist figures and deep hues that capture familiar objects without idealizing them. An exploration and review of Wyeth’s messages through this nostalgic artwork eagerly awaits us!

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