Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant . . .
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 5, Epilogue
n his final speech, Prospero recognizes the necessity for a friendly collusion between the audience and the performer in order that the illusion of fantasy prevails. Victorian fairy painters and illustrators depended upon a similar supportive relationship as they conjured up "realms of faerie" for appreciative spectators. Their enthusiastic admirers included such diverse luminaries as Queen Victoria, Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll), William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, and Samuel Carter Hall. Fairy paintings appeared regularly in Royal Academy exhibitions throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. Most of the artists from the early Victorian period took their subjects from the plays of Shakespeare, most notably A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest, and the poetry of Milton and Spenser. They usually added imaginative details to these works culled from folklore and fairy tales. An even larger audience for fairy images emerged with the expanding readership of illustrated books and magazines after midcentury.
Artists chose to paint fairy pictures for a variety of reasons. Some artists, like Daniel Maclise, Richard Dadd, and Joseph Noel Paton, chose fairy painting as one way to establish their professional careers and to solicit critical and public recognition. For Dadd and Paton fairy subjects remained a lifelong passion. Other artists, such as John Anster Fitzgerald, John Simmons, Robert Huskisson, and John Atkinson Grimshaw, developed a popular following for their small fantasy works, which mixed fairy scenes with eroticism and dream imagery. Even such established artists as William Etty, J. M. W. Turner, and Edwin Landseer took advantage of the genre's popularity in the 1840s and painted their own versions of fairyland. The Pre-Raphaelite artists John Everett Millais, William Bell Scott, and Arthur Hughes found an interest in fairy subject matter that engaged them with varied success. Of the three, Hughes went on to make a name for himself as a fantasy illustrator.
Not all artists chose an academic career as the best route to public approbation. George Cruikshank and Richard "Dicky" Doyle, for example, were the successful founders of a century-long dynasty of Victorian fairy illustration. Cruikshank's art acted as a link between the satirical broadsides of the Regency period and the moral bromides of the early Victorian era. Doyle helped initiate the Victorian revolution in popular media with his contributions to the satirical journal Punch and his illustrations to Charles Dickens's Christmas novels. By the 1870s, Doyle had become one of the most prominent fairy illustrators in a field that included his brother Charles altamont Doyle, Arthur Hughes, Kate Greenaway, and Eleanor Vere Boyle. At the end of the century, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, John Dickson Batten, Henry Justice Ford, Robert Anning Bell, Jessie M. King, and the Robinson brothers (Charles, William Heath, and Thomas Heath) developed the fairy vocabulary into a variety of sophisticated illustrative styles, both in color and in black and white. All of these artists contributed to the popularity of fairy imagery through their illustrations in novels, fairy tale collections, folklore studies, engraved folios, and popular journals.
Art to Enchant: The Development of Victorian Fairy Painting
- Fairy Painting in the Romantic Era
- The Heyday of Fairy Painting
- Joseph Noel Paton's Contribution
- Pre-Raphaelite Fairy Painting
- Fairy Painting after 1850
- Works Cited