Catalogue entry

Henry Fuseli 1741–1825

T00876 The Shepherd’s Dream, from ‘Paradise Lost’ 1793

Not inscribed.
Canvas, 60¾ x 84¾ (154.5 x 215) on stretcher 61¼ x 85¼ (155.5 x 217.5).
Purchased from the Leger Galleries (Grant-in-Aid) 1966.
Coll Leonard Redmayne; ...; sold anonymously Sotheby’s, 13th July 1966 (101), bt. Leger Galleries.
Exh. Fuseli’s Milton Gallery, Pall Mall, May–July 1799 and 1800 (4).
Lit. John Knowles, The Life and Writings of Henry Fuseli, Esq., M.A.R.A., 1831, I, pp. 206–7; B. R. Haydon and William Hazlitt, Painting and the Fine Arts, 1838, p. 213; Gert Schiff, Johann Heinrich Fusslis Milton-Galerie, 1963, pp. 13, 18, 20, 38, 82–5, 118, 142, 156, 162.

This illustration to Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 781–8, was painted by Fuseli for his Milton Gallery. It was mentioned as having been finished in a letter of 16th February 1793 and is based, with a few minor alterations, on a drawing in pencil, red chalk and wash exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1786 (78) and now in the Albertina, Vienna (repr. Frederick Antal, Fuseli Studies, 1956, pl. 46, and Schiff, op. cit., pl. 42).

The Milton Gallery had its origins in 1790 when Joseph Johnson planned to publish Milton’s poems in an edition by William Cowper with thirty illustrations to be engraved from paintings to be commissioned from Fuseli. Cowper’s madness and the opposition of Boydell, who feared competition with his Shakespeare Gallery, led to the project being abandoned, but Fuseli continued on his own with the idea of a public exhibition and separate engravings after his pictures. The Gallery was first opened in 1799 with forty pictures and again the following year with seven new ones, but was not a commercial success.

In Fuseli’s catalogue to the Milton Gallery this picture is described as follows:

‘Pict. IV. Figures from a simile in allusion to the contracted form of the Spirits assembled in the new raised Hall of Pandaemonium, illustrated by a simile from

Fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels by a forest side
Or fountain some belated peasant sees,
Or dreams he sees, while over head the moon
Sits arbitress, and nearer to the earth
Wheels her pale course, they on their mirth and dance
Intent, with jocund music charm his ear;
At once with joy and fear his heart rebounds.’

The sleeping figure is described by Milton merely as a peasant but Fuseli, when he exhibited the drawing in 1786, entitled it ‘The shepherd’s dream. (Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book I, 781)’, and this more specific title has been followed here; it was also used by Fuseli’s pupil B. R. Haydon (loc. cit.). Fuseli used the figure again on its own in another picture painted for the Milton Gallery between 1794 and 1796, ‘Solitude. Twilight’, illustrating Lycidas (picture XXXVII; versions in the Kunsthaus, Zurich, and, two, in the collection of Dr. Conrad Ulrich, Zürich, one repr. Antal, op. cit., pl. 44, and Schiff, op. cit., pl. 43). Antal points out the influence on this figure of Michalengelo’s Asa lunette in the Sistine Chapel (op. cit., p. 94).

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1966–1967, London 1967.