Halloween would seem the perfect date to visit an exhibition of dark art from the leading lights of the Gothic movement. Yet, in a case of the trick preceding the treat, audiences will have to wait until February to see Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination at Tate Britain in London.
The exhibition explores the taste for supernatural themes and perverse sexuality that flourished in Britain between 1770 and 1830, with particular emphasis on the work of William Blake and Henry Fuseli. Its centrepiece is Fuseli's vast painting, Satan Starting From the Touch of Ithuriel's Spear, which has not been exhibited since it was unveiled at the Royal Academy in 1880.
The work was registered as lost and only resurfaced in 1988 when it was sold from a private collection to the dancer Rudolf Nureyev. "The painting was an illustration for Paradise Lost, so it comes from a high literary source," said Tate Britain curator Martin Myrone. "But it looks like a superhero comic. The angels are these graceful, muscular figures in skin-tight costumes."
Among the 60 other Fuseli works on offer is The Nightmare. It depicts a supine woman menaced by an imp that sits astride her chest while a demonic horse glares from the shadows. Legend has it that Fuseli induced the painting by eating a dish of raw pork and recording the dreams that followed. Pride of place is also given to Fuseli's extensive set of erotic drawings.
Blake is represented by a number of paintings, including The Witch of Endor Raising the Spirit of Samuel and his classic, The Night of Enitharmon's Joy. The show also features work by John Flaxman, George Romney, Joseph Wright of Derby and the caricaturist James Gillray.
With its focus on the sensual and the monstrous, the Gothic movement has been seen as a reaction to the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Satan Starting from the Touch of Ithuriel's Spear was a work long thought lost until it re-emerged at auction in 1988 - 13 years after the last Fuseli show in Britain - and was purchased by the ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev. It is now owned by the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart which is lending it for the new exhibition, Independent reports. A.M.