The Nightmare

Henry Fuseli Swiss, 1741-1825
On View


Era of Revolution, Level 3, South Wing

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About the Artwork

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.

The Nightmare


Henry Fuseli




Oil on canvas

Unframed: 40 1/16 × 50 1/16 × 13/16 inches (101.7 × 127.1 × 2.1 cm) Framed: 47 5/8 × 58 × 3 1/2 inches (121 × 147.3 × 8.9 cm)


European Painting

Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Smokler and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman


This work is in the public domain.


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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)

For more information on provenance and its important function in the museum, please visit:

Provenance page

Exhibition History

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The exhibition history of a number of objects in our collection only begins after their acquisition by the museum, and may reflect an incomplete record.

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Published References

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Catalogue of the Valuable Collection of Ancient and Modern Pictures of the Right Hon. Viscount Eversley, Deceased; also the Celebrated Haskett Smith Collection of the Works of George Morland; also the Thomson Bonar Collection of Family Portraits, Formerly at Camden House, Chislehurst; and other Fine Works by F. Guardi and of the Early English School. Sales cat., Christie, Manson & Woods, London, May, 9, 1896, p. 16, no. 78.

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Cumming, Laura. “Something of the Night.” The Observer, February 19, 2006 (ill.). [unknown page]

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Dillon, Brian. "Tomb Raiders." Modern Painters (February 2006): 60–65, p. 60 (ill.).

Bindman, David. “Fuseli: Zürich and London.” The Burlington Magazine 148, no. 1238 (May 2006): 364-365, pp. 364-365, fig. 60 (ill.).

Gargaro, Eugene A. Jr., Graham W. J. Beal and Alfred Taubman. “The Year in Review.” Bulletin of the Detroit Institute of Arts 80, no. ¾ (2006): 4-9, p. 6.

Myrone, Martin. “Henri Fuseli and Gothic Sculpture.” Huntington Library Quarterly 70, no. 2 (June 2007): 289-310, pp. 289, 309.

Pressly, William L. The Artist as Original Genius: Shakespeare’s ‘fine Frenzy’ in Late-Eighteenth Century British Art. Newark, 2007, pp. 95, 109, 219.

Farthing, Stephen. 1001 Paintings You Must See Before You Die. 2007, New York, p. 330 (ill.).

Stone, Kerrianne. "The incubus in the collections." University of Melbourne Collections, issue 3 (December 2008): pp. 42–47 (ill.).

Lister, Katie. “Femmes Fatales and Fatal Females.” In The Survival of Myth: Innovation, Singularity, and Altereality, ed. David Kennedy and Paul Hardwick, Cambridge, 2010, p. 171.

Avery-Quash, Susanna. “The Travel Notebooks of Sir Charles Eastlake: Volume II.” The Volume of the Walpole Society 73 (2011): 153-197, p. 154.

Palmer, Allison Lee. Historical Dictionary of Neoclassical Art and Architecture. Lanham, 2011, p. 15.

Adler, Shelly. Sleep Paralysis: Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-body. New Brunswick, 2011, pp. 55-56, 140, note 12, 14.

Lubbock, Tom. Great Works: The Isle of the Dead (1880), Arnold Bocklin.” The Independent (January 15, 2011): Accessed on: November 21, 2019.

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.

Lubbock, Tom. “The Art of Love: Henry Fuseli.” The Independent, (September 20, 2008): Accessed on: November 20, 2019.

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

Salort-Pons, Salvador. "Un Demonio en mi Jardin." Ars Magazine: Revista De Arte Y Coleccionismo 16, no. 60. (October-December 2023) p. 66-72.

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Henry Fuseli, The Nightmare, 1781, oil on canvas. Detroit Institute of Arts, Founders Society Purchase with funds from Mr. and Mrs. Bert L. Smokler and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence A. Fleischman, 55.5.A.

The Nightmare
The Nightmare