March Artist Spotlight: John Anster Fitzgerald by Kate Wolford
John Anster Fitzgerald (1819-1906) was known as “Fairy Fitzgerald,” during his lifetime, which encompassed the entire Victorian era — a time when fantasy and fairy tale illustration was booming. His dreamy works held their own next to paintings by Pre-Raphaelite super stars like John William Waterhouse and Edward Burne-Jones.
Yet unlike the Pre-Raphaelites, Fitzgerald was not chummy with his peers. He seems to have been a self-taught artist, although he did exhibit at prestigious institutions like the Royal Academy of Arts. Maybe his family life kept him too busy for clubbing with other artists, as he had a wife, Mary Ann Barr, and at least six children.
Despite his domestic duties and his solo path as an artist, Fitzgerald may have enjoyed some personal time in the opium dens that flourished in Victorian times. One of his famous paintings is called “The Pipe Dream” and considering the many little goblins, ghouls and sprites that populate the dream’s landscape, it seems that Fitzgerald knew a thing or two about opium and/or laudanum. Drug use was rampant in 19th Century England, and many celebrated artists and writers succumbed to temptation.
Speculation is about all we have to go on when it comes to Fitzgerald’s life and work, but his paintings are so layered and lovely, we can assume that he had a first-rate imagination, was a keen observer of nature (he didn’t just paint fairies and goblins), and mixed colors like a champion.
One of his most celebrated paintings is “The Fairies’ Banquet.” It’s layered with all manner of pretty beings decked in astonishing hats, but also some deeply strange “other” creatures with antennae. The morning glories that loom over the banquet are lifelike, giving the painting a link with reality. You can stare at that painting for an hour and not see everything.
Most of Fitzgerald’s paintings were independent of stories and plays, but he did work inspired by “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” and “The Tempest.” His “Ariel” shows Shakespeare’s spirit draped on a branch, yet his weight looks like it might be too much for his bough. And his eyes have a weird, mischievous look. Every Fitzgerald painting has a touch of malice mixed in with the gorgeousness.
Fitzgerald’s work is hugely popular over 100 years after his death. His works are all over Pinterest and quality prints are cheap to buy and frame. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his work, below are some of his best. In order, they are “The Pipe Dream,” “The Fairies’ Banquet,” “Ariel,”“Titania and Bottom,” “Fairy Hordes Attacking a Bat,” and “Fairies Looking Through a Gothic Arch.”
Do you have a John Anster Fitzgerald favorite? If so, share below!
Kate Wolford is the founder of EC and a contributing editor to the magazine. She's also a freelance editor whose books, Beyond the Glass Slipper, Krampusnacht, Tales of Krampus, and Frozen Fairy Tales can all be found at her Amazon Author Page HERE.
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