Victorian fairy painting
'Fairy painting, particularly when produced in its Golden Age, between 1840 and 1870, is a peculiarly British contribution to the development of Romanticism. […] As modern industrial progress engulfed the English countryside, the Victorians embraced belief in fairies as a reaction to the disenchantment of the world […] Fairy painting is the visual evidence of a spectrum of mid-19th-century preoccupations: nationalism, antiquarianism, exploration, anthropology, the dismantling of religious belief and, crucially, the emergence of spiritualism.’ Jeremy Maas and others, Victorian Fairy Painting, exhib. catalogue (Royal Academy of Arts: Merrell Holberton, London, 1998)
John Anster Fitzgerald (1823-1906), The Fairy’s Barque, 1860
John Anster Fitzgerald, Fairy Hordes Attacking a Bat, date unknown
Richard Dadd (1817-1886), Titania Sleeping, 1841
Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901), The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania, 1847
Edwin Landseer (1802-1873), Scene from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Titania and Bottom, 1848-51
Richard Doyle (1824-1883), ‘The Triumphal March of the Elf King’, from In Fairyland, or Pictures from the Elf World, 1869
and joys give rise to moons.
We grow forests in our bones
so our memories can’t find us.
I believe we hide and haunt ourselves.
“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”
I pride myself on always having words to describe something and yet they have failed me, I feel at an utter loss to describe the glory of this gown.
The romantic in me notes the symbolism of the butterfly. The metamorphosis from a child to a married woman. This gown reverberates with life and brings tears to my eyes.
I worry that sometimes I am to sensitive. I find that in my line of work I often have to think of the costume as it’s own entity, wondering about the life of the person who these items once adorned lead to so many questions. Many times I have wished that I had not pursued those thoughts to find out more on their life. I have been moved to tears of sorrow and anger at the unfairness of the treatment of women who came before me. I have discovered that they were prisoners in their beautiful silks, ensnared in brightly woven textiles, pinned alive and struggling for all to admire until at last they accepted their crepe veils and widows weeds before leaving this plane a broken being.
Yet I find myself hoping with every fibre of my being that whoever this woman was she had a beautiful and happy life. That the butterfly that graced the bodice on her wedding gown symbolized more than decoration, that it was true freedom from the cocoon. I’ll never know for sure but I will hope.
Bunka Gakuen Costume Museum