Art History Lab

Enchanting Realms: Exploring Fairy Art and Iconic Victorian Paintings

Introduction to Victorian-Era Paintings

The Victorian era was a time of immense change in British society. This was reflected in the art of the period, which saw a rise in genres such as landscapes, seascapes, fairy paintings, portraits, and Orientalism.

In this article, we will explore these genres and trends in greater detail, taking a closer look at the work of one of the most prominent artists of the era,

William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. We will also examine the influence of the East on Victorian paintings, its rise in popularity across India and the Middle East, and the religious fervor that accompanied it.

William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was founded in 1848 by William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Their aim was to reject the formulaic approach to painting that was taught at the Royal Academy and instead turn to the early Renaissance for inspiration.

The Pre-Raphaelites believed in painting truthfully from nature, rejecting the false ideals of Classical art. William Holman Hunt was one of the most influential members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.

His style was marked by minute observation of nature and a devotion to Christian beliefs. In 1853, Hunt exhibited his painting, The Light of the World.

This painting depicts Christ standing at a door, knocking to enter. It became one of the most popular paintings of the era, with copies of it being produced in every medium.

Victorian Art Genres and Trends

The Victorian era saw a rise in a number of different art genres and trends. One of the most popular genres was landscapes.

Many artists, such as J.M.W. Turner and John Constable, used landscapes to depict nature and the changing seasons. They also captured the industrialization of Britain.

Seascapes were another popular genre during the Victorian era. Artists like William Clarkson Stanfield and Joseph Mallord William Turner captured the power and beauty of the sea.

Their paintings were often used to decorate the homes of wealthy collectors. Fairy paintings were also very popular during the Victorian era.

Artists such as Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald painted fairies in settings that were often dark and mysterious. The paintings captured the fantastical nature of fairy tales and folk tales.

Portraits were another popular genre during the Victorian era. Artists such as John Everett Millais and William Powell Frith often painted famous figures of the day, such as the royal family and politicians.

These paintings were in high demand and were often displayed in public places such as galleries and museums.

Orientalism in Victorian-Era Paintings

One of the most fascinating aspects of Victorian-era paintings is the influence of the East. The East held a great fascination for Victorian artists.

Many of them traveled to India, the Middle East, and North Africa to capture the exotic landscape, customs, and ways of life in their paintings.

Influence of the East on Victorian Paintings

Christian art and Islamic life were two themes that were explored in Victorian-era paintings. These paintings depicted Christ and Muslim people from their respective religions in different settings and situations.

The paintings were often colorful and detailed, with the artists carefully capturing the nuances of the clothing, architecture, and landscape. Fairy paintings in the Victorian era were also influenced by Orientalism.

They often featured fairies wearing Eastern clothing and found in Eastern settings. These paintings captured the exotic/romantic nature of the East.

Rise of Orientalism

Orientalism rose in popularity during the Victorian era due to the Illustrated London News, which carried articles and paintings from the East. The coverage sparked the imagination of the public, and many Victorian painters began to incorporate Eastern themes and motifs into their paintings.

Religious fervor was another reason for the rise of Orientalism. It was believed that the East held the key to the origins of Christianity, and many artists saw it as their duty to travel to the East and capture the religious significance of the region in their paintings.


In conclusion, the Victorian era was a time of great change in British society. Art played a significant role in reflecting this change and the rise of new genres such as Orientalism.

The work of

William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood captured the essence of this transformation by breaking away from traditional art forms and painting truthfully from nature. The influence of the East on Victorian-era paintings was immense and can be seen in the religious themed paintings of Christian art and Islamic life, as well as the fantastical world of fairy paintings.

Orientalism was a reflection of the fascination the East held for Victorian artists, and the paintings sparked by it remain a fascinating legacy of this era.

Fairy Art in Victorian Paintings

Fairy Art was a popular genre during the Victorian era, with artists like Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald creating imaginative and dreamlike depictions of fairy tales and folk tales. The interest in fairy art was fueled by several factors, including Shakespeare’s influence on the public, illustrated publications, and the Royal Academy’s inclusion of fairy paintings in its annual exhibitions.

Victorian Interest in Fairy Art

Shakespeare’s depiction of fairies in his plays like A Midsummer Night’s Dream influenced Victorian artists to create paintings that depicted these otherworldly beings. Shakespeare’s works were among the most widely read texts of the era, and his influence can be seen in the popularity of fairy paintings like those created by John Anster Fitzgerald.

Illustrated publications, such as the Fairy Annual, also increased interest in fairy art. These publications captured the romanticized and whimsical nature of fairy tales and folk tales, inspiring Victorian artists to create their own interpretations of these tales.

The Royal Academy was also an important factor in the rise of fairy art. The Academy’s annual exhibitions included fairy paintings, which were highly sought after by collectors.

Artists such as Richard Dadd and John Anster Fitzgerald found acclaim for their work, and their paintings were often purchased by wealthy collectors and displayed in galleries or private homes. Longevity of

Fairy Art in Victorian Paintings

The popularity of fairy art did not wane once the Victorian era ended.

Even in the 20th century, artists continued to create fairy paintings, and the genre found a new generation of admiring fans. The Royal Academy also continued to showcase fairy paintings, with artists like Arthur Rackham and Brian Froud finding success in the field.

Despite the changing times, the whimsical and dreamlike nature of fairy paintings continued to enchant audiences. The fairy-themed paintings from the Victorian era remain popular today, with their ability to transport viewers to a magical realm that is both captivating and escapist.

Famous Victorian Paintings

The Victorian era saw the rise of many famous paintings, with artists like William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais becoming household names. Here are ten of the most iconic Victorian paintings:

Ophelia by John Everett Millais: This painting depicts the tragic scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, where Ophelia drowns in the Hogsmill River.

The painting captures the eerie beauty of the moment, with Ophelia surrounded by lush flowers and pristine water. The Scapegoat by William Holman Hunt: Based on the biblical story from Leviticus, The Scapegoat shows a goat being led into the wilderness to atone for the sins of the people.

The painting is set against the dramatic backdrop of the Dead Sea and is a masterpiece of Victorian symbolism. Elaine by Emma Sandys: This painting depicts the tragic character from Tennyson’s Arthurian tales.

The painting captures the delicate and mournful nature of Elaine, with soft colors and feminine details. The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse: Like Elaine, The Lady of Shalott is based on a Tennyson poem.

The painting captures the moment when the Lady sees Sir Lancelot in her mirror and breaks the rules of her curse. The painting is a masterpiece of the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema: This painting depicts the infamous Roman Emperor Elagabalus and his fascination with flowers. The painting is a masterpiece of Victorian sensuality, with the Emperor surrounded by cascading roses.

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw by John Singer Sargent: This painting is a portrait of Lady Agnew, the wife of a wealthy Scottish landowner. The painting captures Lady Agnew’s beauty and elegance, with the soft colors and careful attention to detail that Sargent is known for.

Flora by Evelyn De Morgan: This painting depicts the Roman goddess of flowers and flowering plants. The painting is a masterpiece of Victorian classicism, with Flora surrounded by flowers and a beautiful landscape.

The painting shows off De Morgan’s skill at creating intricate details and textures. Flaming June by Frederic Leighton: This painting shows a sleeping nymph draped in a vibrant orange robe.

The painting is a masterpiece of Victorian beauty, with its use of color and attention to detail. The painting has become a modern symbol of the Victorian era, capturing the sensuality and elegance of the time.

Love and the Pilgrim by Edward Burne-Jones: This painting depicts a scene from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The painting captures the gothic beauty of the era, with a melancholy pilgrim seen on a desolate landscape.

Midsummer Eve by Edward Robert Hughes: This painting is a fantastical depiction of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. It shows a group of fairies, elves, and other magical creatures in a lush forest.

The painting is a masterpiece of Victorian fairy art, with its intricate details and whimsical nature. These paintings show the incredible range and diversity of Victorian-era art, with each one a masterwork of its genre.

Whether capturing the elegance of portraits or the otherworldly beauty of fairy tales, these paintings remain a testament to the enduring allure of the Victorian period. In conclusion, Victorian-era paintings encompassed a wide range of genres and themes, reflecting the societal changes and interests of the period.

Fairy art gained popularity due to Shakespearean influences, illustrated publications, and the inclusion of fairy paintings in the Royal Academy. Additionally, the genre maintained its appeal in the 20th century.

Meanwhile, the article explored famous Victorian paintings, showcasing the diverse talents of artists such as Millais, Waterhouse, and Sargent. These paintings continue to captivate audiences today, exemplifying the enduring allure of Victorian art.

The exploration of these topics provides a glimpse into the creativity, imagination, and cultural impact of Victorian-era paintings, inviting us to appreciate the beauty and diversity of this significant period in art history.

Popular Posts