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Art and Images in Psychiatry |

The Nightmare

James C. Harris, MD
Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2004;61(5):439-440. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.61.5.439.
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When Max Eastman visited Sigmund Freud's apartment at Berggasse 19,Vienna, Austria, in 1926, he noticed a print of John Henry Fuseli's (1741-1825) The Nightmare hanging on the wall next to Rembrandt vanRijn's The Anatomy Lesson.1(p15) Freud did not refer to Fuseli's most famous painting in his writing,but his colleague Ernest Jones chose another version of it as the frontispieceof his book On the Nightmare,2 ascholarly study of the origins and significance of the nightmare theme. However,the nightmare did not fit easily into Freud's model of dreams as wish fulfillments.Initially he proposed that nightmares represent superego wishes for punishment;later he suggested that traumatic nightmares represent a repetition compulsion.3(p41) Fuseli's painting provides an opportunityto reexamine how the meaning of the word nightmare hasevolved.

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John Henry Fuseli (1741-1825), Swiss-English. Cover: The Nightmare, 1781, oil on canvas; 101 × 124.5 cm. FoundersSociety purchase with funds from Mr and Mrs Bert L. Smokler and Mr and MrsLawrence A. Fleischman. Photograph copyright 1996, Detroit Institute of Arts,Detroit, Mich.

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Figure 1.

Fuseli, TheNightmare Leaving Two Sleeping Women, 1810.

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Figure 2.

Fuseli, Portraitof a Lady (reverse side of The Nightmare),late 18th century.

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