National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Oedipus Cursing His Son, Polynices Henry Fuseli (artist)
Swiss, 1741 - 1825
Oedipus Cursing His Son, Polynices, 1786
oil on canvas
overall: 149.8 x 165.4 cm (59 x 65 1/8 in.) framed: 177.2 x 191.8 x 12.3 cm (69 3/4 x 75 1/2 x 4 13/16 in.)
Paul Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: British and American History Paintings of the 1700s
Object 2 of 8

Henry Fuseli's dramatic painting, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1786, depicts the tense climax of Oedipus at Colonus, a drama by Sophocles. In that ancient Greek tragedy, King Oedipus had gone into self-imposed exile at Colonus, a town near Athens, after discovering to his horror that, unwittingly, he had murdered his father and married his own mother. Oedipus, having blinded himself in remorse, is depicted here with blood-red eyes in a thick, scabby paint—the opposite of the normal use of smooth, clear textures for eyes.

The kneeling Polynices, one of Oedipus’ two sons, hopes to win his father's favor over his brother, who had usurped the throne. Outraged at both his unfaithful boys, Oedipus condemns them to die in battle by each other's hand. The blind king extends his powerful arms to curse them, while Polynices recoils as if struck a painful blow. Standing between her father and brother, Antigone seeks reconciliation. In contrast to Antigone’s strength of will, her weeping sister, Ismene, personifies sorrow.

Fuseli, a Swiss clergyman, became a classical scholar before studying art in Rome. After immigrating to London in 1780, Fuseli was elected the Royal Academy’s professor of painting.

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