The Nightmare

The Nightmare, by Anglo-Swiss artist Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), was painted in 1781 and first exhibited a year later at the Royal Academy in London in 1782, and it has aroused great curiosity among the public. The title of the work, along with the image of a sleeping woman lying motionless on her back, at the mercy of her ghosts and demons and the erotic and sexual innuendo of the painting certainly contributed to this interest. Over the past two centuries there have been many bold readings of the work suggesting that it would represent the female orgasm – a Freudianism avant la letter, which assumed the plunging into the mysteries of the unconscious and the sublimated sexual desire. Another theory maintains that Fuseli depicts in The Nightmare an impossible love which he has lived, so that the devil is the artist’s own representation.

The painting is currently owned by the Detroit Institute of Arts, where it is exposed – curiously a US city that recently lived the nightmare of its industrial and financial bankruptcy.