The Fire King thumbnail 1
The Fire King thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Paintings, Room 82, The Edwin and Susan Davies Galleries

The Fire King

Oil Painting
1801-1810 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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.

The subject matter was borrowed from Walter Scott’s ballad, The Fire King, published in G.M. Lewis’ Tales of Wonder in 1801. It is set at the time of the Crusades, and depicts the Fire King about to give a magical sword to the hero, Count Albert. This scene of emotional intensity and the emphasis on the hero’s terror as the Fire King appears in a glow of volcanic irruptions is a fine example of Fuseli’s art. His wide-ranging imagination and favourite subject matters draw upon the supernatural, fairy mythology and demonic superstition.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'The Fire King', Henry Fuseli RA, Swiss school, 1801-1810
Physical Description
At the bottom of stairs in a cavern, a young man wearing a classical armour hides his face with terror in front of an old man dressed all’antica emerging from volcanic irruptions on the right, four half-naked female figures surround him and try to tear up his toga.
Dimensions
  • Frame height: 1265mm
  • Estimate width: 124cm
  • Frame height: 1.265m
  • Frame width: 1.52m
  • With frame weight: 57kg
  • Frame depth: 9.0cm
Dimensions taken from departmental object file Frame 1265 x 1520 x 90
Styles
Object history
Purchased, 1885



Historical significance: Fuseli's subject is taken from Sir Walter Scott's Poem, The Fire King published in London in 1801. A Crusader, Count Albert, has been captured by his Infidel enemies and has fallen in love with the Sultan's daughter, Zulema. To gain her hand he has to abjure Christianity, fight his former allies and pass three nights deep in a cavern. Here the scene depicts him in front of the King of Fire who will deliver a magic sword to the hero. The four female figures surrounding the King came from Fuseli's imagination and are not mentioned in the poem.
Historical context
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.
Subjects depicted
Association
Literary ReferenceThe Fire King by Sir Walter Scott
Summary
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.



The subject matter was borrowed from Walter Scott’s ballad, The Fire King, published in G.M. Lewis’ Tales of Wonder in 1801. It is set at the time of the Crusades, and depicts the Fire King about to give a magical sword to the hero, Count Albert. This scene of emotional intensity and the emphasis on the hero’s terror as the Fire King appears in a glow of volcanic irruptions is a fine example of Fuseli’s art. His wide-ranging imagination and favourite subject matters draw upon the supernatural, fairy mythology and demonic superstition.
Bibliographic References
  • 100 Great Paintings in The Victoria & Albert Museum, London: V&A, 1985, p.88
  • Evans, Mark et al. Vikutoria & Arubāto Bijutsukan-zō : eikoku romanshugi kaigaten = The Romantic tradition in British painting, 1800-1950 : masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Japan : Brain Trust, 2002
  • Schiff, G., et al. eds., Johann Heinrich Füssli. 1741-1825, Munich, 1974, cat. no. 160.
  • Schiff, G. ed., Henry Fuseli, 1741-1825, London, 1975, cat. no. 130.
  • L'opera completa di Füssli,, G. Schiff ed., Milan, 1977, cat. no. 269.
  • Altick, R. D., Paintings from Books. Art and Literature in Britain, 1760-1900, Columbus, 1985, p. 425, fig. 312.
  • Muther, R., Geschichte der englischen Malerei, Berlin, 1903, p. 92.
  • Tomory, P., The life and art of HenryFuseli, London, 1972, pl. IX, p. 118.
  • Schiff, G, Johann Heinrich Füssli 1741-1825, 2 vols., Zurich, 1973, cat. no. 1237.
  • Evans, M., The Painted World. From Illumination to Abstraction, London, 2005, p. 87, illus.
  • Johann Heinrich Füssli : 1741-1825 : Gemälde und Zeichnungen, Zürich : Kunsthaus, 196994
Collection
Accession Number
158-1885

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record createdDecember 15, 1999
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