Tate remembers father of the 'Gothic Nightmare'

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The Independent Online

He is the artist that history forgot, despite creating one of the 18th century's most shocking images. But not only did Henry Fuseli influence the great visionary painter William Blake, he was also crucial in creating an artistic aesthetic.

In a new show at Tate Britain, the Swiss-born painter has finally won his proper place in art history as a pivotal figure of the Gothic style, which dominated British culture from around 1770 to 1830.

Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination, will be the first serious consideration of the themes of violence, horror and the supernatural in visual art.

Gothic art began with The Nightmare, a painting which shocked the public and critics of the time alike, as Fuseli intended, when he put it on display at the Royal Academy in 1782. The painting led to a flood of work featuring witches, imps, fairies and ghosts, often inspired by literary references from Shakespeare to Milton.

Yet even when the Tate last presented a show on Blake, Fuseli's influence was recognised only in a single footnote. The three decades of scholarship on Fuseli since the last exhibition of his work was staged in Britain in 1975 have transformed both our understanding of him and his contemporaries.

The works of Blake, Fuseli and others can be seen as filling the apparent 30-year gap between the first appearance of Gothic, in Horace Walpole's 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, and the next spate of Gothic literature which did not appear until the 1790s.

Sir Christopher Frayling, a consultant curator to the exhibition, said: "Literary scholars have always said there's a mystery in Gothic literature. What happens between The Castle of Otranto and the novels of Radcliffe? The answer is the painters take up Gothic with a vengeance."

Curiously, while Gothic has often been regarded as in poor taste, it has been enormously influentialin modern writers, including Angela Carter and Patrick McGrath, and in film and television, from Nosferatu to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. "If you look at Damien Hirst and the Chapman brothers, you could argue that Gothic is the mainstream aesthetic today," Sir Christopher said.

Around a dozen works by Fuseli, long thought as missing, are included in the new exhibition, which runs until 1 May.

A Gothic history

* 1864: Horace Walpole publishes the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto

* 1782: Henry Fuseli shows The Nightmare at the Royal Academy, London

* 1801: Phantasmagoria shows - animated slide-shows with sound effects and shocking images - arrive in Britain from France

* 1818: Mary Shelley's Gothic novel Frankenstein is published

* 1922: Nosferatu, a silent moviebased on the Dracula story, reaches cinemas