Once upon a time it to be a high and serious undertaking for an artist to paint fairies. The quarrel of Oberon and Titania (1849) by Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901) is at the pinnacle the fairy painting, a genre which arose out of a desire come revivify British background painting, and also ended up linked to a rejuvenation of Scottish nationalism. This painting on a shak spa them stands not only as a monument to Britain’s best playwright and also as a tour de force of finely detailed painting, but likewise ties into concerns around the brothers Empire and the condition of Britain’s very own marginalised country-dwelling population. And also while the points the method to future arts that concentrated on native myths rather than foreign subjects, it also stands virtually at the finish of a good tradition of history painting that integrated literary and mythological subjects.

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The painting imagines a step from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In act II scene I, the fairy Puck explains a quarrel in between his masters, the king and also queen that the fairies:

For Oberon is passing fell and wrath,Because the she together her attendant hathA lovely boy, steal from an Indian king;She never had actually so sweet a changeling;And jealousy Oberon would have actually the childKnight of his train, to trace the forests wild;But she perforce withholds the love boy,Crowns him through flowers and makes him every her joy: (II.i)

The painting shows in the centre Titania surrounding by a gloriole of light and also her husband Oberon in Grecian costume. The Indian prince is hiding behind her as the 2 fairy monarchs conflict his ownership. About them, there is one extraordinary array of fairyfolk, dancing, playing, and also getting approximately mischief.

The degree of information is the many extraordinary thing about the painting, the huge variety of figures, the woodland plants, and the little animals. In its very own way, this is as much a product the Victorian scientific research as william Dyce’s Pegwell Bay. There is close attention to the differing plants, even as small as a dandelion and also bluebells, and also to animals including snail, lizard, spider, slug, butterfly, beetles, various other insects, and also an owl which is being assaulted by fairies. Victorians believed that even the supernatural can be subject to scientific investigation, just like spiritualism i m sorry sought to i found it the mysteries that the undead, and attempts at the scientific expertise of fairies and spirits; plenty of eminent figurs such together Arthur Conan Doyle thought in the presence of fairies.

The painting was presented in 1850 imperial Scottish Academy exhibition, at the RSA’s building on Edinburgh’s Princes Street, and it showed immensely popular, attracting large crowds and generally positive an important write-ups. The same year it was purchased by the imperial Association because that the promotion of the good Arts in Scotland, for 700 guineas.

At the very same time, there was a recognition of the sensationalism of the work. Some much less sympathetic critics detailed the fanciful character and the extraordinary variety of naked bodies. Paton to be praised through a modern-day critic for his chaste depiction “multitude of tiny naked beings without anything that might shock the many puritanical eye”, however this claim for the job-related may much less a solemn event of innocence than an effort to disguise the prurience in a occupational which combine sex, violence, grotesquerie, and an eastern eroticism linked to the Empire.

The history of brothers fairy painting started in the late 18th century. It started with two brothers who founded the Boydell Shakespeare Gallery, which opened in purpose-built basic on London’s reputation Pall mall in 1789, intending to “employ Shakespeare together the inspiration to initiate an English school of historical Painting”. Britain’s top painters that the time, including Joshua Reynolds, Joseph Wright, and Henry Fuseli contributed; Fuseli painted 3 scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream including Titania and also Bottom (c. 1790) i m sorry shows the horrific ass-headed Bottom surrounded by beautiful fairy girls.

In the so late 18th and early 19th century, several good artists would certainly treat comparable subjects: Turner, Blake, Landseer, Robert Huskisson, Daniel Maclise, and also William Dyce every painted scenes or numbers from the play. British fairy painting uncovered its other good talent in Richard Dadd that painted Puck in 1841, but in 1843 killed his father while suffering psychological illness and ended his days in one asylum, whereby he developed several works consisting of The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (1855-1864).

He additionally painted the Crimean War and also Indian Mutiny, as in ‘Home’: The Return from the Crimea (1859) and In Memoriam (1858) which showed British women endangered by Indian soldiers around to get in their home, inspired by events at Cawnpore wherein British women and also children were taken as hostages, killed, and also possibly raped before. However while Paton might show sensational and violent scenes from legend or literature, In Memoriam was reputed too close come home and he repainted that so that the females were gift rescued by brother troops, not menaced by Indians.

A man of many artistic talents, Paton found fame depicting Water Babies by Charles Kingsley in 1963, wrote poetry and sculpted, and (following in his father’s footsteps together an antiquarian) was an experienced on antique weapons and armour. Blackwood’s magazine commented in 1855 “never, perhaps, to be there a reputation an ext honourably won, or an ext cheerfully and also cordially recognized than his”. He became a shaft of Scottish society, praised as among the country’s top painters, and appointed as the Queen’s Limner in Scotland in 1866; shortly later on he to be knighted.

Paton likewise depicted religious subjects and also scenes from Arthurian legend, such as How an angel Rowed sir Galahad throughout the Dern Mere (c. 1890) which mirrors his fist to detail and naturalism in the knight’s armour and also his horse’s harness, while likewise appealing to the Victorian enthusiasm for Arthurian themes. The work is usual of Pre-Raphaelite imagery: Galahad is brought throughout a lake while siren-like figures in the water tempt him to stray. The was connected with the Celtic resurgence in the so late 19th century and also was a friend of an essential figures including William Sharp, who wrote poetry as Fiona MacLeod. He died at the period of 80 and also is buried in Edinburgh’s Dean Cemetery.

Despite a wide variety of subjects, Paton was finest known for his fairy painting. Prior to his Quarrel that painted The Reconciliation of Oberon and also Titania (1847; additionally in the NGS), which reflects the fairy pair back together again, under a wedding arch of paris spirits, while Shakespeare’s mortals sleep in the wood. It was submitted because that the competition to decorate the newly-rebuilt homes of Parliament, win in 1847 a compensation of £300 and also being extremely praised by critics; most of the various other winning functions were much more conventional historic paintings, the cool prize going to the Funeral of King Alfred by Henry william Pickersgill, who is ideal known because that his portraits. Yet similar to the later on Quarrel, over there is viciousness in the Reconciliation, with fairies torturing a frog in the foreground in ~ the bottom the the picture.

The progression from Shakespeare to Scottish mythology have the right to be viewed in The Fairy Raid: transferring Off a Changeling, Midsummer Eve (1867), now in Kelvingrove art Gallery, Glasgow. This shows a moonlit scene based on the idea from folktales that fairies would certainly steal mortal babies and also replace them with evil substitutes, changelings, which would certainly be raised by unwitting parents. Such beliefs were additionally held around Gypsies. (The modern-day variation that this is the fear of babies being swapped at bear in hospital and also the mom taking the wrong boy home.) The Fairy Raid combines pictures of courtly romance typical of Pre-Raphaelite art through his fondness for naturalistic detail and also supernatural mischief.

His work shows the affect of contemporary ideas of exoticism, principally in the figure of the Indian prince hiding behind Titania. This is a really different image to the rapacious mutineers the In Memoriam, however could additionally be taken together a talk about empire. This to be a time once artists to be looking past Greek and Roman models to much more distant lands: Russia, the close to east, and also north Africa: for instance William Allan (1782-1850) travelled in Russia and also painted exotic scene on his return. Over there was additionally a fashion because that portraits in Arab costume. Dadd had actually toured the center east before doing lot of his fairy painting.

There was likewise the affect of genre painting closer to home. The English painter’s George Westmoreland’s nation scenes with Gypsies and other marginal teams were very popular and also influential on brother landscape painting as it moved from the grand estates of Gainsborough to a an ext picturesque relenten of smaller sized scenes and peasant life. In Scotland there to be a vast fashion for scenes of classic Scottish town and country life native David Wilkie, David Allan, Alexander Carse, and also others.

With a Scottish ruling class surrounded by imperial subjects, unruly Highlanders and also other marginal figures, and also restive reduced classes of commercial and agricultural workers, over there is a natural propensity to watch the depictions of fairy violence together manifestations of broader anxieties. This is a subject of Carole G Silver’s Strange & secret Peoples, a examine of the Victorian interest in all points fairy. The Fairy Raid speaks to among the deepest human fears, the loss of a child, but even in this paint there is strange, savage violence, including the flying fairies’ effort to carry down the owl in ~ the height of the image.

Silver suggests that the surge in fairy arts in the so late 19th century mirrors a cultivation fear of the other: Gypsies, Scottish highlanders, irish villagers and travellers, royal subjects, foreigners. But it may be truer come say it is part of the same process that turned previously threatening teams such together the Scottish highlanders who attacked England in 1745 right into sweet, cute, romantic, backward, and also essentially unauthorized figures. Walter Scott and the Gothic revival did a most this, such as in Rob Roy, and the Celtic revival continued the process. At least in the Quarrel and also Reconciliation, the fairies are diminished to perpetuating tiny crimes on tiny animals; The Fairy Raid v its evident equation of fairy monarchy v the heroes that Paton’s Arthurian painting is even an ext confused.

Paton’s ar in art history is complex. He had actually links come the Pre-Raphaelites yet he does not follow through their formal innovations, their stylisation, and also their combination of primitive simplicity with mindful opulence. His arts relates as much to Rococo, in its luxury and also celebration the leisure, its role as conversation-piece for the idle rich, and also to Georgian and also early victor landscape painting in the realism the his trees and also plants and animals. In contrast to the Pre-Raphaelites, it still has strong roots in scholastic painting.

His work additionally marks a change in the standing of see painting. If friend look in ~ an 18th century landscape painter choose Gainsborough, or also a slightly later number like Constable, the painting is around commanding the land, showing off aristocratic estates, through a high viewpoint and sweeping vistas. Yet in the 19th century there to be a brand-new fashion for the picturesque, with reduced perspectives, much shorter sightlines, an ext twisted trees and also dense foliage. This is a bourgeois no an aristocratic art: the does no serve to show off the mansions of the landed gentry (idealised, complimentary of industry, sometimes complimentary of people) yet to decorate bourgeois houses in the city v a myth of Britain together a land of countryside. This too is connected with Romanticism, which emerged as a reaction to urbanisation, industrialisation, and farming enclosure which damaged the hedges, bosks, and thickets. If you live surrounded by nature, you don’t need images of nature on your walls.

Paton’s art marks the decrease of background painting in Britain, and more generally in Europe. History painting, which includes religious, mythological, and also literary subjects, was the highest kind of arts in the scholastic system prevalent in the 18th and also 19th centuries. In the UK you can look at two main events that seek to conserve or re-establish background painting: the Boydell Shakespeare gallery at the finish of the eighteenth century, i m sorry sought come re-establish a national school of background painting, began the custom for fairy painting, and also the vain to administer paintings because that the rebuilt houses of parliament in 1847, which was the last major occasion as soon as academic background painting was demanded come play a significant social role but which produced no lasting icons of nationhood. The job of Scottish artist David Scott (1806-1849) is instructive: fancying himself a career together a an excellent history painter, he ended his job bankrupt and possibly mad, although before then he did control a well Puck Fleeing indigenous the Dawn in 1837.

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Increasingly, art was private, and this to be the instance in Scotland even prior to in England – presbyterian Scotland go not have actually a prominent role for spiritual art, and with the finishing of the Scottish conference in 1707 there was much less of a public purpose too. Arts no longer connected power or government or religious purpose, yet functioned together conversation item or demonstrate of separation, personal, instance taste. Paintings of Shakespeare’s fairies have a curious status: at as soon as tributes to a British literature titan whose genius is perhaps the most lasting strength in the background of this isles, and also something completely insubstantial, fantastical, and also illusory. The fairy, tiny, secluded, visible only to children and also the insane, is the perfect topic for such a private art, the arts of dreams and also private fantasy.

Joseph Noel Paton, The quarrel of Oberon and Titania, 1849. Oil top top canvas, 99 x 152 cm. Scottish nationwide Gallery, Edinburgh. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons.)