Lot 165
  • 165

Henry Fuseli, R.A.

30,000 - 50,000 GBP
175,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Henry Fuseli, R.A.
  • King Amycus of Bebryces
  • Pen and brown ink over pencil;
    inscribed lower left: Σαρκι σιδαρειη σφυρηλατος οια κολοσσος 


Sale, London, Sotheby's, 29 November 1973, lot 21A, (as A Colossus), bt. Colnaghi;
with P. & D. Colnaghi, London,
by whom sold to John R. Gaines (1929-2005);
by family descent to the present owners

Catalogue Note

Fuseli has inscribed this superb drawing with a quote from Idyll 22 of Theocritus’s poem Castor and Pollux. Σαρκι σιδαρειη σφυρηλατος οια κολοσσος (like some Colossos on an anvil wrought) identifies this extraordinary figure as King Amycus of Bebryces, son of Poseidon and the nymph Melia. He was a fearsome boxer, who challenged Pollux to a fight during the quest of the Argonauts. The poem describes him as ‘huge and terrible... his ears were crushed shapeless by the hard fist, and his giant breast and great broad back were orbed with iron flesh like a sledge-wrought effigy; moreover the sinews upon his brawny arms upstood beside the shoulder like the boulder-stones some torrent hath rolled and rounded in his swirling eddies…’

Fuseli, a learned artist, had been introduced to the writings of Homer, the Nibelungenlied, Dante, Shakespeare and Milton while still a boy in Zurich and throughout his long and brilliant career he constantly mined his library for inspiration. His fascination with the classical world was enhanced when he went to live in Rome (between 1770 and 1779) on the advice of Sir Joshua Reynolds. During this period, he became fascinated by classical art and architecture, Mannerism and in particular Michelangelo. Thus the present figure of King Amycus would appear to be particularly inspired by the damned souls that populate the right hand side of Michelangelo’s Last Judgement (Sistine Chapel, Vatican). 

The present work once belonged to John R. Gaines who formed an exceptionally fine collection of works on paper during the 1970s and 1980s. In November 1986, Sotheby’s held his legendary sale, the forty-six lots including examples of work by Leonardo, Raphael, Veronese, Van Dyck, Claude Lorrain, Rembrandt, Turner, Monet, Seurat, Van Gogh and Picasso, amongst others. The present work was not included in that auction, but remained instead with John R. Gaines and subsequent to his death, with his family.