Being in the grips of a nightmare is a common occurrence that we can all relate to, but we may never experience one exactly as a particular artist depicts it. Here Fuseli conjures up a terrifying image filled with mystery and panic, yet with a vague and disturbing familiarity. It suggests the way the woman feels in the grip of a demonic nightmare, not what she sees. The Nightmare was reproduced as an engraving; a copy hung in Sigmund Freud's apartment in Vienna in the 1920s.
Artist Henry Fuseli, Swiss, 1741-1825
  • The Nightmare
Date 1781
Medium oil on canvas
Dimensions Unframed: 40 1/16 × 50 1/16 × 13/16 inches (101.7 × 127.1 × 2.1 cm)
Framed: 47 5/8 inches × 58 inches × 3 1/2 inches (121 × 147.3 × 8.9 cm)
Credit Line Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Smokler and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman
Accession Number 55.5.A
Department European Painting
On View Era of Revolution S331, Level 3 (see map)
until ca. 1846, Collection Sir Brooke Boothby (1744-1824) (Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire, England).
by 1879, Collection H. Haskett Smith Troweswell, Goudhurst,England);
May 9 1896, auction, lot 78, Viscount Eversley and other collections, Christie's (London, England).
collection Earl of Harrowby (Stafford, England).
by November 1947, (Roland, Browse and Delbanco, London, England);
1950-1955, (Durlacher Brothers, New York, New York, USA);
1955-present, purchase by the Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, Michigan, USA)
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Bromwich, David. “Fantastic, Deadpan and Deadly.” The New York Review of Books, April 26, 2012, p. 39.

Latimer, Quinn. “Private Views: Literature versus art History.” Frieze, no. 156 (June July August 2013): pp. 25-26 (ill.).

Kryger, Meir, Alon Avidan and Richard Berry eds. Atlas of Clinical Sleep Medicine, second edition. 2013, pp. 6-7, fig. 1-16 (ill.).

Petherbridge, Deanna. Witches and Wicked Bodies. Exh. cat. National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, 2013, p. 18. [not in exhibition]

Kleiner, Fred. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: A Global History, 14th edition, vol. 2. Boston, 2013, p. 762, fig. 27-8 (ill.). [ see also 13th ed. vol. 2, pp. 784-785, fig. 30-9]

Döpp, Hans-Jürgen, Joe A. Thomas, Victoria Charles. 1000 Erotic Works of Genius. New York: 2014, pp. 204-205, no. 350 (ill.).

Pop, Andrei. Antiquity, Theatre, and the Painting of Henry Fuseli. Oxford, 2015, pp. xiii, 85-90, 92-93, 99-100, 102, 104-105, 107, 112-113, 116-118, 121-126, 128-129, 131, pl. 6 (ill.)

Döpp, Hans-Jürgen, Joe A. Thomas, Victoria Charles. 30 Millenia of Erotic Art. New York, 2016, p. 532, no. 531. (ill.).

Kryger, Meir H. The Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life. New Haven, 2017, reproduced in ch. 13.

Ekirch, Roger. “Sleep in Western Culture: A Historical Perspective.” In Sleep, Health, and Society: From Aetiology to Public Health, ed. Cappuccio, Francesco P. et al., Oxford, 2018, p. 168, (ill.).

Honour, Hugh. Romanticism. New York, 2018, pp. 1844-1845, note 56. [re-print of 1979 edition]

Solomonova, Elizaveta. “Sleep Paralysis: Phenomenology, Neurophysiology, and Treatment.” In The Oxford Handbook of Spontaneous Thought: Mind-Wandering, Creativity, and Dreaming, ed. Kalina Christoff and Kieran C. R. Fox. New York, 2018, pp. 442, fig. 31.2 (ill.).

Mathias, Manon and Alison Moore. Gut Feeling and Digestive health in Nineteenth-century Literature, History and Culture. Cham, 2018, p. 123.

Sommerlad, Joe. “World Goth Day: An Anatomy of Melancholy from Goya and Edgar Allan Poe to Bauhaus and Tim Burton.” The Independent (May 22, 2019): Accessed on: November 21, 2019.

Skic, Matthew. Cost of Revollution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier. Philadelphia, 2019, p.23, p. 25 (ill.) (fig. 18).