Fairy painting bought for £25 in 1935 to sell for an estimated £40,000-£60,000 at Bonhams 19th Century Pictures sale

A scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream, a magical watercolour fairy painting by John Simmons is offered for sale with an estimate of £40,000-£60,000 at Bonhams 19th Century Paintings Sale on 10th July.

The scene depicts Act II Scene II of Shakespeare's play which sees Oberon, the Fairy King, planning to sprinkle a love potion onto his quarrelling Fairy Queen's eyes while she sleeps, ensuring that she will fall in love with the first person she sees when she wakes. The Fairy Queen Titania lies asleep in the forest under the moonlight on the left hand side of the painting, guarded by her fairies. Hermia slumbers also, to the right of the scene. The mischievous Puck flies above the sleeping queen.

Signed and dated 'J. Simmons 1873', the painting was purchased for £25 in Liverpool in 1935 and gifted to the present owner in 1965.

Although Simmons was recorded as a miniature painter working in Bristol and earned a living as a portrait painter, his large ethereal fairy paintings are his most celebrated works.

Fairy paintings in 19th Century Britain enjoyed enormous popularity providing much needed escapism from the constraints and hardships of Victorian Life. Simmons' paintings were erotic compared to his contemporaries. Some critics claimed that the exotic "fairy trappings" were simply an attempt to exonerate the viewer from blatant voyeurism.

Peter Rees, Director of 19th Century Painting at Bonhams comments, "It is rare to find such a large and wonderful example of fairy painting. This exceptional picture is in excellent condition and as far as we know has never been offered for sale at auction before."

The Thames at Chelsea Reach

Another interesting picture in this sale is The Thames at Chelsea Reach by Thomas Miles Richardson (1784-1848) estimated at £30,000-£50,000.

The oil on canvas shows a fascinating 19th century scene of the banks of the river Thames in Chelsea near what is now Cheyne Walk. With the tide low, a beached sailing boat unloads its cargo onto horses and carts. The grand red brick buildings lining the shore and the bridge appearing in the distance are landmarks that allow viewers to locate almost the exact location where the scene is set.

Best known for his depictions of North-East England and the Highlands of Scotland, Thomas Miles Richardson was born in Newcastle, starting his career as a cabinet maker before turning his attention to fine art in 1806. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1814 and at the Royal Society of British Artists from 1827. Richardson helped to found the Northern Academy of Arts and, in 1822, he organised the first Fine Art Exhibition in the north of England.

The present lot is a rare and impressive example of Richardson's London views.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

  1. Peter Rees
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8201
    FaxFax: +44 20 7447 7434

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