Self-portrait thumbnail 1
Self-portrait thumbnail 2
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
Not currently on display at the V&A
On short term loan out for exhibition

Self-portrait

Drawing
1780s (drawn)
Artist/Maker
Place of origin

This intense self-portrait shows Fuseli in his forties. He was a man known for his witty character and for defying convention, and yet he portrays himself in a pose of melancholy and self-questioning. His fists are clenched as if he would like to draw our attention to them as his most important artistic tools.


Object details
Categories
Object type
Materials and techniques
Black and white chalk
Brief description
Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), self portrait, showing the artists face cupped in hands, black and white chalk on buff paper, 1780s

Physical description
Study for self-portrait in black and white chalk, shows face of artist.
Dimensions
  • Height: 27cm
  • Width: 19.4cm
  • Image height: 324mm
  • Image width: 204mm
  • Sheet height: 444mm
  • Sheet width: 357mm
Marks and inscriptions
Wickstead (Inscribed in ink.)
Credit line
Given by Capt H. Reitlinger
Object history
Historical significance: The drawing has been dated 1780-1790 (Schiff 1973, no. 864, p. 510), thus falling into the period after Fuseli's return to Britain in 1779. It shows the artist at the age of about 40 years in a pose of melancholy and self-questioning, yet also defiance (Schiff 1973, 154). Together with another example in the collection (E.1030-1918), this study is one of the few documented self-portraits by Fuseli (there are various drawings depicting his hands, but only few examples of self-portraits in his work (Schiff nos. 569, 570, 571 (?), 1743; Powell no. 23)). According to his biographer John Knowles, he was well aware of his 'unheroic' appearance being only 5'2" tall (Lindsay 1986, 483). By contrast, he was known for his witty character and unconventional and eccentric behaviour.



E.1028-1918 and E.1030-1918 are exceptional examples of full-face studies that are finished to a high degree of elaboration and detail showing Fuseli in a psychologically intimate context. A comparable self-portrait, although less elaborate, in the National Portrait Gallery (Schiff no. 1743, p.555) shows Fuseli half-length leaning over a book. Furthermore, the drawings are extraordinary in terms of their technical execution, as Fuseli is known to hardly heighten his drawings with white although this was common practice among artists of this period. Also, he preferred pencil and most often pen to working in chalk (Powell 1951, 28). His drawings are mostly executed in an expressive, impatient manner, rather 'rhetorical and declamatory' than 'diligent and persuasive' (Myrone 2001, 27).



The meaning of the inscription 'Wickstead' by an unknown hand remains unclear. According to Powell, the close resemblance to other known self-portraits allows the assumption that the drawing represents indeed Fuseli and not Philip Wickstead, a contemporary of his (Powell 1951, 20). Furthermore, the strokes in the shading undoubtedly identify Fuseli as the executor of this drawing, slanting from upper left to lower right. Fuseli was ambidextrous, but practically always drew left-handed as he was left with a weaker right hand after an illness (Powell 1951).
Summary
This intense self-portrait shows Fuseli in his forties. He was a man known for his witty character and for defying convention, and yet he portrays himself in a pose of melancholy and self-questioning. His fists are clenched as if he would like to draw our attention to them as his most important artistic tools.
Bibliographic references
  • Owens, Susan, The Art of Drawing British Masters and Methods since 1600, V&A Publishing, London, 2013, p. 64, fig. 44
  • Clair, Jean (ed.), Mélancolie, génie et folie en occident, Paris : Gallimard : Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2005no.178
  • Sturgis, Alexander, Rupert Christiansen, Lois Oliver and Michael Wilson Rebels and Martyrs : The Image of the Artist in the Nineteenth Century. London : The National Gallery, 2006no.6
  • NAL no. 41.X.69 Antal, Frederik. Fuseli Studies. London: Routledge & Paul, 1956, p.126, note 3. Antal, Frederik. Review: Fuseli Studies. In: Burlington Magazine, Vol. 96, No. 617, 1954, pp. 260-261. Copy in Word & Image Department, Artist file Lapaire, C.L.. Un dessin inédit de Henry Fuessli. Extrait de la revue Suisse d'art et d'archéologie, 19/2, 1959, p. 102, plate 37. Lindsay, Suzanne G.. Emblematic Aspects of Fuseli's Artist in Despair. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 68, No. 3. (Sep., 1986), pp. 483-484. Myrone, Martin. Henry Fuseli. London: Tate Publishing, 2001, p.27. NAL no. 38.JJ.23 Powell, Nicolas. The drawings of Henry Fuseli. London: Faber and Faber, 1951, no. 43, p.42, p.28, note 3. NAL no. 107.HH.7 and 107.HH.8 Schiff, Gert. Johann Heinrich Fuessli: Oevrekatalog Schweizer Kuenstler. Zurich: Schweizer Institut fuer Kunstwissenschaft, 1973, Vol.1, no. 864, p.228; Vol.2, p. 154, 510. NAL no. ND.98.0668 Sieveking, Hinrich. Fuseli to Menzel: Drawings and watercolours in the age of Goethe. Munich: Prestel, 1998, p.20
  • P. 122Gregor Wedekind, Bruno Fornari, Max Hollein and Catherine de Zegher, Géricault. Fragmenten van mededogen Frankfurt: Schirn Kunsthalle: 2013. ISBN: 9783777421476.
Collection
Accession number
E.1028-1918

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Record createdJune 26, 2006
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