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Oil painting - The Dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene 2)
  • The Dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene 2)
    Fuseli, Henry, born 1741 - died 1825
  • Enlarge image

The Dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene 2)

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    London (painted)

  • Date:

    1781 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Fuseli, Henry, born 1741 - died 1825 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas
    Frame: Oak with gildes slip frame. V&A travel frame. 19th C glazed with low reflective laminated glass

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Henry Fuseli [Johann Heinrich Füssli] (1741-1825), was born in Zurich and received rigorous art-historical training from his father Johann Caspar Füssli. He spent most of his life in London becoming an associate of the Royal Academy in 1788 and a Royal Academician in 1790. He specialised in history paintings on a grand scale, drawing his inspiration from the mythology, classical literature and notably Dante's Divine Comedy. He was also a prolific writer and was elected the Academy's Professor of Painting in a post he held until 1805; he was made Keeper in 1804 and re-elected Professor in 1810, and the statutes were changed to enable him to retain the Keepership as well.

This painting is probably a fragment of a destroyed composition commissioned by Thomas Macklin in 1779 for his Poets' Gallery. The subject matter is taken from Shakespeare's Henry VIII (Act 4, scene 2) and shows the death of Queen Katherine. The classically dressed figures hovering in the air represents the 'spirits of peace' departing from her body. This scene of emotional intensity is a fine example of Fuseli's wide-ranging imagination and favourite subject matters based on the supernatural, fairy mythology and demonic superstition.

Physical description

Semi-nude female figures flying away in the air, one of them stretching out her arm and holding a crown.

Place of Origin

London (painted)


1781 (painted)


Fuseli, Henry, born 1741 - died 1825 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas
Frame: Oak with gildes slip frame. V&A travel frame. 19th C glazed with low reflective laminated glass


Height: 54.5 in approx., Width: 40.5 in approx., Height: 1522 mm frame, Width: 1159 mm frame, Depth: 79 mm frame

Object history note

Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, listed in the 1868 post-mortem register of the contents of his London house (V&A R/F MA/1/T1181) in the Library as 'An Oil on canvas. Portion of a picture representing the Dream of Queen Catherine - Shakespeare, Henry VIII). By Henry Fuseli, RA. In frame. English. 18th century'; bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend, 1868.

Historical significance: This painting is a fragment of a picture representing the dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, scene 2) commissioned in 1779 by Thomas Macklin (c. 1760-1800) for his Poets' Gallery. The final composition is only known through an engraving made by Francesco Bartolozzi (1728-1815) in 1788, which was much criticised by Fuseli.
Between 1779 and 1788, Fuseli executed a series of works and studies for this composition. The present fragment constitutes the upper right of the painting believed to be the original version engraved by Bartolozzi whereas another fragment (1387-1869) constitutes its central part. There is another version of the same subject currently in the Flyde Borough Council, which was commissioned by Sir Robert Smith, Bart (1744-1802) and exhibited in 1781 at the Royal Academy.
A preparatory study for the latter version can be seen on the reverse of a drawing showing 'Bacchus as a child' in the Kunsthaus, Zurich.
In Shakespeare's Henry VIII (1613), Act 4, scene 2 shows the dying queen Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) who was the catholic wife of the King until their divorce in 1533 so as to allow the King to marry Ann Boleyn. The Queen dreams on her deathbed of the 'spirits of peace' departing from her.
In 1788, Macklin issued a prospectus for 'One hundred pictures / Prints illustrative of the most celebrated British Poets ... with letter-press explanatory of the subject, extracted from the writings of the respective poets.' A copy is held at the National Library of Wales.
This composition probably inspired William Blake for his own version of the theme (dated 1807) currently in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Historical context note

The word Romanticism derived from the medieval term 'romance' and was first used by the German poets and critics August Wilhelm and Friedrich Schlegel to label a wider cultural movement beginning with the late 18th and ending towards the mid 19th century. Romanticism started first in Western Europe as a literary and philosophical movement and only gradually involved the other arts, explicitly around 1800. Romantic artists were fascinated by nature they interpreted as a mirror of the mind. They investigated human nature and personality, the folk culture, the national and ethnic origins, the medieval era, the exotic, the remote, the mysterious and the occult. The interest in the exotic and the non-Western, illustrated in France by such a painter as Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), as well as the medieval revival, witnessed in England by Horace Walpole (1717-1797), are perhaps the most identifiable parts of Romanticism. It is really in the Post-Napoleonic period that this movement gained ascendancy. Its greatest proponents were among others Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) and François-René de Chateaubriant (1768-1848) in France, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) in England, Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) and Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) in Germany. In the visual arts, it was largely played out by 1850, but in music it persists for another generation.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, portion of a picture representing the Dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Act IV, Scene 2), Henry Fuseli, Swiss school, 1781.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Victoria and Albert Museum, Summary Catalogue of British paintings, London, 1973, p. 49.
Boase, T. S. R., 'Macklin and Bowyer' in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 26, No. 1/2 (1963), pp. 148-177, esp. p. 153.
Allentuck, M., 'Henry Fuseli's 'Queen Katherine's Vision' and Macklin's Poets' Gallery: A New Critique' in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 39 (1976), pp. 266-268, esp. p. 266.
L'opera completa di Füssli,, G. Schiff ed., Milan, 1977, cat. no. 49b.
Schiff, G., et al. eds., Johann Heinrich Füssli. 1741-1825, Munich, 1974, p. 142.
Licht, F., et al., Füssli pittore di Shakespeare. Pittura e teatro 1775-1825, Milan, 1997, p. 100.
Schiff, G, Johann Heinrich Füssli 1741-1825, 2 vols., Zurich, 1973, cat. no. 730b


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figures; Crown


Paintings; Shakespeare


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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