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Title 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
Description

This painting is probably a fragment of a destroyed composition commissioned by Thomas Macklin in 1779 for his Poets' Gallery. The subject is taken from Shakespeare's Henry VIII (Act 4, scene 2) and shows the death of Queen Katherine. The classically dressed figures hovering in the air represents the 'spirits of peace' departing from her body. 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 1386-1869
Subject figure; literature (Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Queen Katherine)
Measurements 138.5 x 103 cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Rev. C. H. Townshend 1868.
Publications Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 103-104, cat. no. 228.
Notes

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 upper right of the painting believed to be the original version engraved by Bartolozzi whereas another fragment (1387-1869) constitutes its central part. There is another version of the same subject currently in the Flyde Borough Council, 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.

Listed in the 1868 post-mortem register of the contents of his London house (V&A R/F MA/1/T1181) in the Library as 'An Oil on canvas. Portion of a picture representing the Dream of Queen Catherine - Shakespeare, Henry VIII). By Henry Fuseli, RA. In frame. English. 18th century'. Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... .Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.' See: Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 1990, p.xix.

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

 

 

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