Pictures and Paintings of Fairies, From A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, and Other Stories
Ever since I was a little girl I've had a fascination with fairies. There are so many stories about them in so many cultures and traditions, that I can't help but wonder whether there is some basis in truth for their existence. Wouldn't it be wonderful if these fragile, beautiful creatures really did exist in hidden glades and dells, casting their enchantments, and living out their lives untroubled by the busy world of man?
I don't suppose that I will ever have the privilege of meeting one of these fantastical, winged beings in real life, so I must make do with those I can find in books and art galleries. I'm not alone in my fascination. Shakespeare also liked to talk about fairies, as evidenced by Titania and Oberon, the fairy king and queen in Midsummer Night's Dream, and Ariel, the mischievous sprite in The Tempest. J.M. Barrie's creation 'Tinkerbell' in Peter Pan is equally memorable, and our traditional stories are littered with fairy creatures such as Cinderella's fairy godmother, and of course, the tooth fairy who exchanges children's lost milk teeth for coins!
I've collected a few of the many fairy illustrations and paintings together here in this hub, and included some details about the artists and their work. I hope they cast their spell on you, too.
'Take the Fair Face of a Woman...'
'Take the fair face of a woman, and gently suspending, with butterflies, flowers and jewels attending, your fairy is made of most beautiful things.'
These words, taken from a poem by Charles Ede, acted as the inspiration for the painting above. Sophie Gengembre Anderson, the daughter of Charles Gengembre, a Parisian architect and his English wife, was born in France in 1823. Largely self-taught, Sophie studied briefly under Charles de Steuben in Paris, before the family left for the USA in 1848. They lived initially in Cincinnati, Ohio, then later in Manchester, Pennsylvania where Sophie met and married the English Artist, Walter Anderson.
In 1854 the Andersons moved to London, England where Sophie continued to produce fine figurative paintings in a highly detailed, naturalistic, pre-Raphaelite style. The couple finally settled in Falmouth, Cornwall, where Sophie lived until her death in 1903. She frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy in London, and this painting is a good example of her work and her love of intricate detail. The flowing locks of this golden-haired beauty are particularly fine, as are the tiny butterflies that form her crown.
Study for 'The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania' by Sir Joseph Noel Paton
The Weaver Turned Artist
Born to a family of damask weavers in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland in 1821, Sir Joseph Noel Paton showed early artistic promise, and after a brief period in the family business, he decided to head for London to study art in the Royal Academy schools. He went onto become a highly successful figurative artist, and won prizes for some of his paintings, including this one.
Titania and Oberon are the king and queen of the fairies in Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream. These fairy royals are the size of adult humans, although the throng of magical creatures around them vary greatly from human-child-sized through to tiny translucent creatures. Titania herself has a halo of light about her, whilst Oberon is more substantial and solidly painted.
The Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon by Sir Joseph Noel Paton, 1847
This painting picks up the story of A Midsummer Night's Dream a little further on from the one above. It can be found in the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh.
A Midsummer Night's Dream: Titania and Bottom by Sir Edwin Landseer
A Favourite of Queen Victoria
Sir Edwin Landseer was an extremely popular Victorian artist and sculptor, perhaps best known for sculpting the lions that lie at the foot of Nelson's Column in Trafalgar Square, London. Animals were his speciality, and he was widely regarded as one of the foremost animal painters of his time. Queen Victoria herself, commissioned several portraits of her family from the artist, usually with the royal pets included in the paintings.
In his late 30s Landseer began to suffer from depression and mental instability, and this was to trouble him throughout his remaining years, often aggravated by alcohol and drug use. Towards the end of his life Landseer's mental stability became increasingly variable, and at the request of his family he was declared insane in July 1872. Despite these problems, however, he remained a popular figure, and his death on 1 October 1873 was widely marked in England: his bronze lions at the base of Nelson's Column were garlanded with wreaths, and people thronged the streets of London to watch his funeral procession make it's slow journey to St Paul's Cathedral where he was interred with great ceremony.
Landseer's painting of Titania and Bottom is an unusual choice of subject for him, although it is well-painted and atmospheric. The subject is taken from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and shows the fairy queen making affectionate advances to Bottom, who has been enchanted by Oberon, and is wearing an ass's head. Whilst Titania has been painted in human form, Oberon, depicted nude, and with his back to us, is a smaller, more traditionally-sized fairy figure, and his attendants are riding beautifully executed rabbits.
Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake, c. 1786
William Blake - An Original Mind
William Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827), author of the rousing hymn, 'Jerusalem' which is always sung with such gusto at 'Last Night at the Proms', was a poet, artist and print-maker. A highly individual character, he was regarded as eccentric by his contemporaries, and did not really receive the attention he deserved during his life-time. His work has philosophical and mystical undercurrents, and one of his most famous paintings is of God dividing the heavens.
The painting shown above illustrates a scene from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, and Blake's fairies have a very human appearance, despite the flowery garlands in their hair, and their wispy, flowing garments.
Ariel (from The Tempest) by C.W. Sharpe 1873
A Talented Engraver
C.W. Sharpe was a talented engraver, and produced a great deal of line illustration in his own right, although the picture of Ariel, above, is the result of a collaborative effort.
I like the atmospheric effect produced in this black-and-white engraving. Ariel looks poised, ready for mischief.
Fairy Rings and Toadstools by Richard Doyle, 1875
The Punch Cartoonist Who Turned his Hand to Fairies
Richard 'Dickie' Doyle, (1824 – 1883) was a well-known Victorian illustrator, and the son of noted political caricaturist, John Doyle. Young Dickie and his brothers, James and Charles, learned their trade in their father's studio, and all three attained some success as artists. From an early age Dickie displayed a talent for depicting fantasy scenes, and throughout his life he was fascinated by fairy tales. He worked for Punch magazine for seven years from 1843, but eventually left there to concentrate on book illustration and painting.
The fairies in this painting are very tiny, misty creatures. They seem to be having a great time, leap-frogging toadstools, dancing in circles, and teasing the local wildlife. The picture is very delicately painted with beautifully rendered ferns and leaves forming the background.
The Uninvited Guest by Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, 1906
The Last of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood
Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale (1871-1945) is regarded as being the last of the Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood. Her fantastic attention to detail, her use of jewel-bright colours, and her love of fairy tales and legends, all serve as clues as to her principle artistic influences. The twentieth century gave birth to a more relaxed and painterly approach to art, yet Eleanor Brickdale stayed true to her roots, and she continued to produce her highly detailed works of art, very much in the tradition of Millais, Ford Madox Brown and William Holman Hunt.
Born into a moderately wealthy family, she was educated at the Crystal Palace School of Art and at the Royal Academy school, where she met and formed a lasting friendship with Byam Shaw - a prominent artist. She went on to exhibit at the Royal Academy exhibitions, but because of her slow and painstaking approach, she produced a smaller body of work than many other artists.
The painting shown here, The Uninvited Guest, appears to illustrate a story or a poem. The winged creature in the foreground has a quiver full of arrows, and one has been selected. Who is it intended for? We can only guess.
Lily Fairy by Luis Ricardo Falero, 1888
Luis Ricardo Falero
I haven't been able to find out too much about this Spanish artist who died at the early age of 45 in 1896. There are quite a number of paintings by him posted on the Internet, and this Lily Fairy with her butterfly style wings, is a good example. Falero produced a number of fairy paintings, and his fairies tend to be quite womanly in form rather than the fey, child-like creatures often depicted by other fairy artists.
The Captive Robin by John Anster Fitzgerald, c. 1864
Fairy Fitzgerald and the Opium Dens
John Anster Fitzgerald was one of many artists specialising in fairy painting during the Victorian era, and because this was his favoured subject matter, he acquired the nickname 'Fairy Fitzgerald'. He was an Irish man by birth, son of a poet, and his paintings show a high degree of imagination. Some of his more fantastical works contain ghoulish and demonic images, as well as references to the Victorian drug scene, which apparently held some fascination for him.
The Captive Robin is one of a series of paintings on the theme of 'Who Killed Cock Robin?'. The fairies are enjoying their victory over the bird, and they have bound him with ropes of flowers. These are mischievous fairies, very much in the Irish tradition.
The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke by Richard Dadd
Richard Dadd, Slightly Mad?
Richard Dadd (1 August 1817 – 7 January 1886) was an English painter of fairies and other supernatural subjects, Most of the works for which he is best known were created whilst he was a patient in a hospital for the mentally ill, where he was incarcerated after murdering his father.
Dadd was born in Chatham, Kent,and was the son of a chemist. He showed a talent for drawing from an early age, and attended the Royal Academy Schools from the age of 20. His skills as a draftsman subsequently led Sir Thomas Phillips, to request his presence on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Palestine and Egypt in 1842. Toward the end of December that year, whilst travelling by boat up the Nile, Dadd became delusional and his behaviour was violently erratic. He declared himself to be under the influence of Osiris, an Egyptian god, and his behaviour caused serious concern amongst his fellow travellers.
On his return to England in early 1843, doctors diagnosed him to be of unsound mind and his family arranged for him to recuperate quietly in the countryside near Cobham, in Kent. Sadly, In August of that year, Dadd became convinced that his father was the Devil, and stabbed him to death, before fleeing for France. During his journey, Dadd attempted to murder a tourist, and at this point he was captured and returned home, where he admitted killing his father, and he was pronounced criminally insane.
From this point onward, Richard Dadd remained in psychiatric care, initially in Bethlem Hospital, then later in the newly built Broadmoor. The hospital doctors encouraged him to continue with his art, and some of his best-known work was completed in this period.
The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke by Richard Dadd, oil on canvas, was painted between 1855-64. It now hangs in the Tate Gallery, London. The attention to detail is breath-taking, and the little figures are extremely realistically rendered.
Puck and The Fairies by Richard Dadd, 1873
Like the preceding painting, this image is also by Richard Dadd, and the black-and-white treatment gives the picture a wonderfully atmospheric feel.
Contradiction: Oberon and Titania by Richard Dadd
This painting illustrates Act II, Scene I of Midsummer Night's Dream. Oberon and Titania are arguing over an Indian boy against a densely packed, exquisitely detailed background of flowers and foilage and minuscule dancing fairies. The details fully reflect the four years Dadd spent obsessively working on this painting, which was completed during his time in Bethlem Hospital. The picture was not put on public display until 1930, but this, together with The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, confirmed Richard Dadd's position as a master painter of the Victorian fairy genre.
Fairies Return Manohar, by an unknown artist
A Traditional Indian Tale
This painting by an unknown Indian artist, gives us a new twist on the subject of fairies in art. These fairies have stylised triangular wings, and dark, braided hair. They are like temple dancers, beautiful and purposeful. Now hanging in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the picture was used to illustrate the cover the Oxford World Classic's edition of Manjhan Madhumati, an Indian Sufi romance.