Oedipus at Colonus, Cursing his Son Polynices

Henry Fuseli Swiss

Not on view

Working as a draftsman in Rome during the 1770s, Fuseli developed a distinctive, Romantic style and became the leader of a forward-looking circle of British and Scandinavian artists and sculptors. Near the end of an eight-year stay, he imagined this archetypal father-son confrontation, taking his subject from Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus–a play that he likely read in the original Greek. The artist presents the blind, dying king, guided by his daughters into the sacred grove of the Temple of Poseidon, near Athens. Meeting Polynices, a son who had earlier exiled his father from Thebes, Oedipus curses him. The frieze-like arrangement demonstrates Fuseli’s study of classical marbles while the dynamic poses figures betray his admiration for Michelangelo and the Italian Mannerists. The artist returned to this subject three times as a draftsman, and once as a painter, but this recently discovered work appears to be his earliest conception.

Oedipus at Colonus, Cursing his Son Polynices, Henry Fuseli (Swiss, Zürich 1741–1825 London), Pen and brown ink, brush and gray wash, traces of black chalk underdrawing

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