Saturday, June 21, 2014

Victorian Fairy Fascination


Happy Summer Solstice everyone! Wether you're enjoying Midsummer celebrations in Sweden (so jealous), celebrating Litha as a pagan, or just enjoying it as the first day of summer (or winter if you are in the Southern Hemisphere) I hope you are having a lovely day.



This time of year always makes me think about fairies. After all my mother did warn me that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden. Pagan lore says that this is the best day if the year to spot them, particularly in the evening. Wether or not you believe in the wee folk, there does seem to be a fair number of people who enjoy them in art and literature, and the Victorians were no different. In fact, many of them had an outright fascination with them!



Fairies were a favourite subject in literature, plays and art during this time. Shakespearean plays like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and The Tempest" were very popular and there was a new interest in fairy stories especially for children. With it's roots in the Romantic era, interest in the mystical was a reaction to the industrial revolution, scientific break throughs, and strict religious and social constraints. Many people sought to escape and to seek out a more spiritual and natural side to life, and fairies were an expression of this.



A whole genre of art called Fairy Art became very popular in the mid 1800s. The above painting is by John Anster Fitzgerald and was shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1845. "Fairy Fitzgerald" was typical of this style of artist, using lots of detail, fantastic and often dark imagery. Some think his work was opium influenced, but either way the work is lovely. This genre influenced the Pre-Raphaelites with their medieval and Arthurian inspired paintings.



As the Victorian era waned, so did the fascination with fairies. There was a revitalization in 1917 when the Cottingley fairies were photographed. If you don't know about this, it was a series of five photographs of two young girls with fairies. Of course it was a hoax, as they used cardboard cutouts of the fairies in the photos.



Fairy art has seen a revitalization with the explosion of the fantasy genre. Brian Froud is probably the most popular artist with his many fairy art books and cards. I actually own two sets of the cards myself and love their playful images.
What are your thoughts on fairies and fairy art?
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