Director, Head of Sales
£60,000 - £80,000
Private collection, UK.
John Anster Fitzgerald, or 'Fairy Fitzgerald' as he became known, is one of the most celebrated exponents of Fairy Painting which captured the imagination of the Victorian public and continues to delight collectors today. Born in London in 1823, there were few signs in Fitzgerald's youth to indicate that he would go onto to become a prolific exhibitor at the Royal Academy and at the British Institution. Having had little or no formal training he first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1845 at the age of twenty-two, and would continue to do so regularly until 1881, his final exhibit coming in 1902 after a long hiatus.
Fitzgerald lived his whole life in a London where the public imagination was becoming increasingly gripped by ideas of the supernatural and the occult. The interest pervaded all parts of the arts, literature, opera, ballet and of course painting. The uniquely British tradition of fairy painting had begun in the late eighteenth century with artists such as William Blake and Henry Fuseli who imaginatively illustrated the work of Shakespeare, particularly his more fanciful plays, A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest. This peculiarly Victorian contribution to the Romantic movement reached its height in the 1850s and 60s but while artists such as Sir Joseph Noel Paton continued to use literature as their source of inspiration, Fitzgerald did not limit himself in this way. Many of his works are the products of a fertile imagination in which he created his own fairy kingdom. Whether these scenes were induced by drug fuelled dreams is a matter of debate, opium was the recreational drug of the artistic and poetic and many great Victorian works of literature were produced under its influence. It is also likely that Fitzgerald was aware of and influenced by the works of Hieronymous Bosch whose prints were widely available in the mid nineteenth century and collected by artists. Fitzgerald was also a devotee of the stage, and from all these influences a colourful character is built up and the vibrancy of his art can come as no surprise. Indeed Harry Furniss, in his memoir My Bohemian Days (1919), writes of Fitzgerald: 'his life was one long Midsummer Night's Dream.'
In the present lot the excitement and chaos so often seen in Fitzgerald's larger fairy paintings is centred around a new-born fairy emerging from a flower of pure white. She comes into the fairy domain shimmering and lighting the scene from the centre. The introduction of limelight into London's theatres in the mid-nineteenth century was well known to Fitzgerald, and we see its influence here. Gathered around to bear witness are all the denizens of the fairy world, rendered in Fitzgerald's exquisite and vibrant colours. The close relationship between the fairies and the natural world is clear as birds of all type perch and hover to catch a glimpse. In the foreground two larger birds carry sprites away to spread the news, one blowing a small wind instrument fashioned out of a pink petal. To the left of centre, a pair of large diaphanous wings are opened seemingly to shade our human eyes from the pure iridescent light of the new-born fairy, lest we be dazzled. All the characters are however apparently unaware of our intrusion, their focus is on the momentous event alone, and we are left with the impression of having been fortunate to have been a witness.