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Title Portion of a Picture Representing the Dream of Queen Katherine (Shakespeare, 'Henry VIII', Act IV, Scene 2)
Collection Victoria and Albert Museum
Artist Fuseli, Henry (Swiss painter, 17411825, active in England)
Date Earliest 1779
Date Latest 1781

This painting is probably a fragment of a destroyed composition commissioned by Thomas Macklin in 1779 for his Poets' Gallery. The subject matter is taken from Shakespeare's Henry VIII (Act 4, scene 2) and shows the death of Queen Katherine. The Queen is here shown on her deathbed, raising her arms towards the hovering figures above her, which are shown in another fragment (see 1386-1869). This scene of emotional intensity is a fine example of Fuseli's wide-ranging imagination and favourite subject matters based on the supernatural, fairy mythology and demonic superstition.

Henry Fuseli (Johann Heinrich Füssli), 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.

Current Accession Number 1387-1869
Subject figure; literature (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Queen Katherine)
Measurements 86.5 x 74.5 cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas backed with millboard
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncey Hare Townshend 1868.
Publications Victoria and Albert Museum, Summary Catalogue of British paintings, London, 1973, p. 49; Boase, T.S.R., 'Macklin and Bowyer' in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 26, No. , 1963, pp. 148-177, esp. p. 153; Schiff, G, Johann Heinrich Füssli 1741-1825, 2 vols., Zurich, 1973, cat. no. 730a; Schiff, G., et al. eds., Johann Heinrich Füssli. 1741-1825, Munich, 1974, p. 142; Allentuck, M., 'Henry Fuseli's 'Queen Katherine's Vision' and Macklin's Poets' Gallery: A New Critique' in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 39, 1976, pp. 266-268, esp. p. 266; L'opera completa di Füssli, G. Schiff ed., Milan, 1977, cat. no. 49a; Licht, F., et al., Füssli pittore di Shakespeare. Pittura e teatro 1775-1825, Milan, 1997, p. 100.

The final composition is only known through an engraving made by Francesco Bartolozzi (1728-1815) in 1788, which was much criticised by Fuseli. Between 1779 and 1788, Fuseli executed a series of works and studies for this composition. The present fragment constitutes the central section of the painting believed to be the original version engraved by Bartolozzi whereas another fragment (1386-1869) constitutes its upper right part. There is another version of the same subject currently in the Flyde Borough Council (Lancashire), which was commissioned by Sir Robert Smith, Bart (1744-1802) and exhibited in 1781 at the Royal Academy. A preparatory study for the latter version can be seen on the reverse of a drawing showing 'Bacchus as a child' in the Kunsthaus, Zurich.

In Shakespeare's Henry VIII (1613), Act 4, scene 2 shows the dying queen Katherine of Aragon (1485-1536) who was the catholic wife of the King until their divorce in 1533 so as to allow the King to marry Ann Boleyn. The Queen dreams on her deathbed of the 'spirits of peace' departing from her and raises her arm towards the hovering figures. The composition probably inspired William Blake for his own version of the theme (dated 1807) currently in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.

Rights Owner © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Author Ana Debenedetti



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