JOHANN HEINRICH FUSELI R.A.
Study of a Woman in a Bonnet, probably Mrs. Fuseli
Harriet Jane Moore (1801-1884)
By descent until sold Christie’s 14th April, 1992, Lot 10
Maurice Rheims, Paris
Private Collection, Paris
The draft of a letter, probably intended for William Roscoe, on the reverse of the drawing reads:
'It is proper I should likewise mention the honour Mr/Rathbone Did me in calling upon me previously to his/introducing me to his Lady - which however his more important avocations prevented./
With regard to Mr Grozer I know him not - that Smyth/had such a plate prepared, is true - but to prepare a plate/& To engrave it are Two things so that the former proves not much/for Mr. Gr. if you mean to have it engraved my Voice/is for Smyth under proper conditions and instructions/I have sent to him, to know previously to this Letter, whether/or not he knew Grozer, but he is not in town nor expected/for some days to come - to engrave the plate he is extremely/desirous - you will please to determine as I promised to/mention it to you.
I remain with real affection
Fuseli’s art is one of the most extraordinary manifestations of the transition from 18th Century classicism to 19th Century romanticism. In part this reflects his international background; born and brought up in Switzerland (hence the original form of his name, Johann Heinrich Fuseli) but living most of his life in London, he also spent a year in Germany and a crucial period of eight years in Italy.
Fuseli had had relationships with several women and had drawn most of them before marrying Sophia Rawlins of Batheaston on 30 July 1788, which was also the year he was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy. She was 18 and he was 47; she had been an amateur artist`s model. Although she was said to be his `social and intellectual inferior` and Schiff says that in his drawings of her we can `trace her gradual transition from the lovely young wife to a domineering virago, as well as the changing hair fashion of the time’, nevertheless their marriage lasted until his death. Many of Fuseli`s interpretations of her must have been merely the product of a fertile imagination rather than malignance. There is no hint of `virago` in this drawing - just a touchingly admiring record of his young wife`s beauty. A pair of very conventional portraits by Opie of Fuseli (now NPG) and Sophia (loc. unknown) hung in Fuseli`s apartments at Somerset House throughout his life.
As Julia Lloyd-Williams has noted, ‘Hair had a fetishistic fascination for Fuseli. He revelled in drawing complicated coiffure, making it obsessively elaborate.’ Although the hair is sometimes stylised by Fuseli`s mannered drawing style as to appear more like a hat or wig to us, in fact in the 1790s women arranged their hair in curls or frizzed over pads and cushions and added elaborate ribbons and curls. In this drawing here Mrs Fuseli`s hair is worn naturally, that which isn’t hidden by the pharaonic bonnet hangs loose over her shoulders. Her right hand is held nervously in the other.
Mr Grozer, who is referred to in the letter on the verso, is presumably the engraver Joseph Grover who did prints after such artists as Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney and George Morland between 1784 and 1797. ‘Smyth’ is more difficult to identify, unless one takes it that this is Fuseli’s elegant manner of spelling ‘Smith’.
In this case there are a number of candidates, the most likely being John Raphael Smith (1752-1812) who engraved two important pictures by Fuseli in the 1780s. Anker Smith (1759-1819) who engraved works by Fuseli for Erasmus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden in 1789 and du Roveray’s edition of Paradise Lost in 1801, and John Thomas Smith (1766-1837), “Antiquity Smith”, who began as an engraver but is best known as keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum from 1812 and as the author of Nollekens and his Times, 1828, and a Book for a Rainy Day, 1845. Mr Rathbone may be a member of the Liverpool family of that name.
This informal drawing of Mrs Fuseli is close to the drawing of Mrs Fuseli asleep in the Auckland City Art Gallery (S. 1778, as of c. 1795); c.f. also S. 1053, 1098 and 1773, all dated by Schiff to the early 1790s.