Critically and commercially popular during the nineteenth century, the intriguing and distinctly British genre of Victorian fairy painting was the subject of an exhibition at The Frick Collection. The roughly thirty paintings and works on paper were selected by Edgar Munhall, Curator of The Frick Collection, from a comprehensive touring exhibition — the first of its type for this subject. The original exhibition was organized by the University of Iowa Museum of Art and the Royal Academy of Arts, London. Record attendance and catalogue sales throughout the tour of Victorian Fairy Painting signaled the public's avid and continuing fascination with this subject.
Fairy painting brought together many opposing elements in the collective psyche and artistic sensibility of the time: rich subject-matter, an escape from the grim elements of an industrial society, an indulgence of new attitudes towards sex, a passion for the unknown, and a denial of the exactitude of photography. Drawing on literary inspiration from Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream to Sir Walter Scott's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, as well as theater, dance, and music, fairy painters exercised their magic with the precision of the Pre-Raphaelites, aided too by experiments with drugs and spiritualism.
Artists represented in the exhibition include such acknowledged masters of fairy painting as Richard Dadd, John Anster Fitzgerald, Daniel Maclise, and Sir Joseph Noël Paton, but also such surprises as Sir Edwin Landseer, Sir John Everett Millais, and J. M. W. Turner. The works were drawn from private collections, museums, and other institutions throughout England and the United States, and a fully-illustrated catalogue by Charlotte Gere, Jeremy Maas, Pamela White Trimpe, and others continues to be available.
Support for the exhibition came in part from the National Endowment for the Arts, United Airlines, and United Airlines World-Wide Cargo. Presentation in New York of Victorian Fairy Painting was made possible, in part, through the generosity of the Fellows of The Frick Collection.