Circle of Henry Fuseli RA, A Rampaging Giant - Early 19th-century ink drawing


An original early 19th-century pen & ink drawing, Circle of Henry Fuseli RA A Rampaging Giant.

This dramatic ink and wash drawing shows the figure of a giant wielding a tree trunk held aloft, with two diminutive figures below. Possibly a representation of the biblical encounter between David and Goliath, the subject is of a type favoured by the Swiss-English artist Henry Fuseli RA (1741–1825), who had a taste for the supernatural.

Fuseli's figures were described by his friend Johann Casper Lavater: 'Fury and force, an energy uniformly supported, and ever active—this is what distinguishes most of the figures and compositions of this masculine genius. Spectres, Demons, and madmen; fantoms, exterminating angels; murders and acts of violence—such are his favourite subject' (Essays on Physiognomy, 1789–98).

This drawing uses chiaroscuro—like Fuseli did—to effect a sense of dramatic tension: the dark vision punctuated with light, highlighting the giant's formidable physique, the figure of his diminutive combatant, and a hopeful suggestion of distant light behind the scene's looming foliage.

In black ink with grey and red wash and touches of white bodycolour on wove paper. For Fuseli working in grey and red wash see British Museum drawing 1973,0120.10.

There is a pencil sketch on the verso of a hand holding cherries.

Historically conservation mounted on to cream wove paper.

Provenance: Covent Garden Gallery.


Overall the condition appears fine as the paper has been extremely well conserved. The entire sheet has been lined with Japanese paper to seamlessly shore up some areas of damage, now barely visible: two hairline tears extending from the right edge into the giant's body, a number of other short tears to the right edge, damage to the upper right corner, and a tear extending from the left edge into the tree area. There are four patches of brown staining in the upper half, more visible on the verso.
22.1cm x 18.1cm.

Henry Fuseli was born in Zürich, Switzerland as Johann Heinrich Füssli, but changed his name to the more Italian sounding Fuseli in the 1770s during his formative stay in Italy. His father was also a painter and writer, and the young Henry received an excellent classical education at the Caroline college of Zurich, at that time destined for the church. He became proficient in English, French, and Italian and was introduced to the works of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, which would later strongly influence his work. And it was here that Fuseli met Johann Kaspar Lavater, a life-long friend, with whom he was forced to leave Switzerland for having helped expose a powerful unjust magistrate.

Fuseli spent time in England, where in 1768 he became acquainted with Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged the young artist to devote himself entirely to art. After this, he spent a formative period in Italy in the company of John Armstrong, where he sought inspiration from classical sculpture, Michelangelo, and mannerist art, and became the leading spirit of a group of innovative young artists.

On returning to London in 1780, he found employment with John Boydell's Shakespeare Gallery, and established his reputation with The Nightmare, his infamous masterwork, first exhibited to the public at the annual Royal Academy exhibition in London in 1782, where it shocked and intrigued onlookers alike. In 1790 he became a full Academician, in 1799 he was appointed professor of painting to the Academy and four years later he was chosen as Keeper. He resigned his professorship, but resumed it in 1810, continuing to hold both offices until his death. Fuseli's pupils included John Constable, Benjamin Robert Haydon, William Etty and Edwin Landseer. William Blake, sixteen years his junior, also recognised a debt to him.

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Product code: JK-971

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