Despite his lack of formal art training, Victorian painter John Anster Fitzgerald became accepted by the Royal Academy, exhibited at the British Institution and established himself as well-known portrait painter and illustrator.
However, “Fairy Fitzgerald” earned his nickname as a “fairy painter”, a popular niche genre in Victorian painting that focused on the depictions of fairies and their otherworldly kin, and the sometimes escapist and imaginative settings evoked by the literature from which the ideas are derived.
One might imagine that this was in some ways the Victorian equivalent of the appeal of contemporary fantasy art, which has revisited related themes with regularity.
Fitzgerald’s take on the subject, though whimsical in some respects, was often darker than that of his contemporaries, with influences from Bosch and Brueghel raising their twisted little heads amidst the flowers and moss of the forest floor.
In some ways, this is an appropriate undercurrent for the subject, given the often dark and grisly nature of many of the original fairy tales and folklore that were the basis for the motifs.
Fitzgerald utilized brilliant color, strong value contrasts and richly textural detail to give his work a visual appeal much suited to his subjects and the appetites of his audience.
His work experienced a revival in the 20th Century, to the point where forgers were discovered to be creating numerous fake Fitzgeralds.