The Nightmare Painting

WHO WAs henry fuseli?

Fuseli accomplished a considerable amount during his artistic career. He was an influence on many well-known artists like William Blake and J.M.W Turner, among others.

historical overview

The 1700s was a significant time in the development of European thought known as the “Age of Reason” or “Age of Enlightenment”.

compositional overview

Fuseli's painting made its debut exhibit in 1782 at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.

subject matter

In The Nightmare painting, Henry Fuseli depicts a darkened interior scene where we see a woman lying on her bed, appearing to be in deep sleep or either unconscious.

subject matter

There is a chubby brown creature sitting on its haunches on top of the sleeping woman’s chest and torso. This creature has been believed to either be an Incubus, an “imp”, or a goblin.

color and light

Fuseli depicts a dark interior scene. Areas of black dominate the composition denoting night-time as well as creating an eerie mood. The sleeping figure of the woman is the only brighter source in the painting.

perspective and line

Fuseli depicts strong horizontal linearity from the woman’s lying figure across the center of the composition. The woman almost acts like a bridge between the real world and the dream world.


The word “mare” has two different meanings, one relating to a female horse and the other to Germanic folklore of a demon that sits on its victim’s chests while they sleep, creating a heavy pressure, inducing nightmares.

who was anna landolt?

Fuseli was apparently deeply in love with the woman called Anna Landolt and she was set to marry another man. This was reportedly an unrequited love for Henry Fuseli.