The Dressing Room, 1806-1807
Oil on canvas
Bequest of Suzette Morton Davidson, class of 1934
Dimensions: Unframed: 34 3/4 x 27 5/8 in. (88.27 x 70.17 cm)
Framed: 42 x 34 1/4 x 2 1/2 in. (106.68 x 87 x 6.35 cm)
Catalogue Raisonné: Schiff
Purchased from Richard Feilen, NYC; Gift to VC Art Gallery from Suzette Morton Davidson, 2002.
Published References v
Gert Schiff, Johann Heinrich Fussli, Verlag Berichthaus, Zurich, 1973.
Exhibition History v
Zurich, Kusthaus Zurich, "Johann Heinrich Fussli," October 14, 2005-January 8, 2006.
The Swiss artist Johann Heinrich Füssli, like the American John Singleton Copley, left his native country to take advantage of the rich cultural life that resided in London in the late eighteenth century. He arrived in 1765 at the encouragement of the British ambassador to Berlin and pursued a career of writing and translating. He was eventually persuaded by Joshua Reynolds to study painting, a course of action that prompted an extended sojourn in Italy from 1770 to 1778. After his return, he spent his painterly career on subjects inspired by the study of the Antique and of great works of literature, particu- larly the works of Shakespeare and Milton. His paintings were charged with a highly Romantic emotionalism and his forms are often angular and facetted. His figural style concentrates on sculpturally muscled men derived from his study of Michelangelo, and on attenuated, Empire-waisted women rooted in the standard of beauty of his time. Images of women set in literary or secular contexts were prevalent in his art during the period 1790–1810, including a large number of brush and wash drawings of his wife in various poses and forms of fancy dress. Vassar’s painting refers to lines 203–208 of William Cowper’s lengthy (624-line) poem The Progress of Error. The specific characters in the painting are Folly, attended at the dressing mirror by servants, and Innocence, standing to one side by a piano and chastely dressed. Cowper sets the stage to their recognition thus:
Folly and Innocence are so alike, The difference, though essential, fails to strike. Yet Folly ever has a vacant stare, A simpering countenance, and a trifling air; But Innocence, sedate, serene, erect, Delights us, by engaging our respect.
Cowper was one of the rare contemporary literary figures illustrated by Fuseli and the artist held him in the highest esteem.