Henry Fuseli’s The Three Witches: Art, Shakespeare, and the Gothic Sublime in 18th-Century Britain

Oct. 11, 2014Mar. 31, 2015
Huntington Art Gallery, Second Floor

New Acquisition in Focus

The Huntington’s newly acquired painting, The Three Witches or The Weird Sisters by Anglo-Swiss painter Henry Fuseli (1741–1825), appears to be a finished, full-size study for  one of the artist’s best-known compositions. The Huntington’s version of the work was in private hands since its creation around 1785, and this installation marks the first time it has been on public display. The painting depicts the pivotal moment in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth (act 1, scene 3) when the protagonist encounters a demonic trio of witches who foretell his fate. Fuseli revels in the play’s ominous mood, tripling the motif of hooded head, extended hand, and sealed lips of the mannish figures, whose appearance is taken directly from Shakespeare’s description: “… you should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so.”

Complemented by vintage prints (including a popular political cartoon based on the painting) drawn from The Huntington’s library collections, this small, focused exhibition demonstrates the wide reach of a haunting and famous painting.