four hyper-detailed fairy paintings into which to escape

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Dear friends,

How are you doing today? That’s not just a rhetorical blog-post-opening flourish, by the way – if you feel like you needed someone to check in with you at present, consider me that someone.

As for me, I’m really struggling to keep control of my anxiety at the moment, especially as day-to-day life in my own neighborhood changes dramatically with each new morning. I imagine that no matter where you are in the world (and whether or not you are a fellow anxiety disorder sufferer), you might be feeling similarly, given the present circumstances. So I’m dusting off this blog again to do what I do best: sharing weird and meticulously painted Victorian fairy art as a form of escapism in these difficult and terrifying and troubling times.

Years ago, when I first started blogging, I initiated (and subsequently failed to complete!) a series of “art history and anxiety” posts in which I hoped to offer up my personal practice of looking at art as a grounding/calming mechanism. I haven’t spoken much about it since then, but when I get the sense that I’m spiraling out of control, it still does help me to immerse myself in a painting and occupy my senses with its details.

And who loves microscopic details quite as much as that odd bunch of nineteenth-century artists who adored painting winged nudes and the mystical glens they inhabit? (I’ve included my favorite thumbnails from each painting, but please click through the hyperlinked titles to view the entire work!)

Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by John Simmons 

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John Simmons, Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1873. Watercolor. Private collection.

Victorian fairy painting protip #1: as long as you put some vaguely Shakespearean subject matter in the center of your composition, it’s fine to insert whatever other weird stuff you can possibly invent around the edges.

If you need a creative self-care break, perhaps try imagining what stories are unfolding in each of the miniature peripheral scenes that frame the border! (This “youth ponders squirrel” encounter is my personal favorite.)

The Dream After the Masked Ball (The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of) by John Anster Fitzgerald 

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John Anster Fitzgerald, The Dream After the Masked Ball (The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of), 1858. Oil on canvas. Private collection.

I struggled to choose just one work by the hilariously-nicknamed “Fairy Fitzgerald,” but the wealth of ghostly figures (and the beautiful detail on the textiles!) makes this painting the obvious choice.

Dancing Fairies by August Maelström

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August Maelström, Dancing Fairies, 1866. Oil on canvas. Nationalmuseum Sweden.

It’s rare that I find a new-to-me fairy painting (I did spend upwards of a year hunting them down for my M.A.), so encountering Dancing Fairies on Google Arts & Culture this week was a true delight. How wonderful to spend some time examining the glowing “mist” at the center of the composition and realizing it’s woven of a procession of fay spirits!

Titania Sleeping by Richard Dadd

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Richard Dadd, Titania Sleeping, 1841. Oil on canvas. Musée du Louvre.

Perhaps this list I’ve constructed for you has been too tame so far. If you’re a Hieronymus Bosch fan, you might prefer Richard Dadd’s visceral, bizarre, and haunting miniature worlds. Though it’s certainly tempting to focus on the living arch made of strange goblin musicians playing their own flute-noses as instruments, I urge you not to neglect the glories of the bronzed bat trompe l’oeil frame.

What next?

I don’t know if anyone still reads this blog routinely (especially since I tried to resurrect it earlier this year and then rather failed utterly), but if you’re out there (hello!) and would like to escape into some art – give me some requests! I’ll happily curate a collection of images just for you in a future post. In my own hyper-introverted way, I would love to make this isolation more bearable for anyone who needs a little joy.

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