MacConnal Mason

John Anster Fitzgerald (1832-1906)

Set of Five: The Myth of Narcissus and Echo

4⅜ x 2⅛ inches – 11.1 x 5.4 cms
4¼ x 5¾ inches – 10.9 x 14.7 cms
4¼ x 9¼ inches – 10.9 x 23.5 cms
4⅜ x 5⅞ inches – 11.1 x 15 cms
4⅜ x 2⅛ inches – 11.1 x 5.4 cms
Oil on Board

Narcissus, the son of Cephisus in Greek mythology was a beautiful youth who rejected the love of the Nymph Echo. His punishment from the gods was to fall in love with himself and to transform into a narcissus or daffodil. Echo meanwhile pined away until only her voice remained, hence echo.

Another interpretation of the myth sees Narcissus viewing his reflection in a pool, and, thinking it was that of the presiding water nymph, reaching for her, falling in and drowning, whereupon the nymphs coming to collect the body found only a flower.

In Fitzgerald’s interpretation of this myth he has portrayed in the central panel, Echo being rejected by Narcissus in the manner of Arthurian ‘Courtly Love’. When Echo first saw Narcissus hunting she fell in love at the sight of him, the greyhound, a symbol of companionship, may also be a reference to the hunt. The two flanking panels depict Narcissus gazing at his reflection accompanied by water nymphs and the greyhound, and Echo pining over Narcissus represented by the flowers. The outer small panels represent Narcissus transforming into a daffodil, and the ethereal voice of Echo, all that remains, in thrall to the narcissi.

Provenance: Private Collection, UK, 1920;
Thence by descent
Artist Biography: John Anster Fitzgerald was born in London in 1832, the son of a poet William Thomas Fitzgerald and Maria Howarth, named after his grandfather, an Irishman who served as a Colonel in the Dutch army. John Anster Fitzgerald became the foremost artist in the peculiarly Victorian genre of fairy painting and is recalled in Harry Furness “My Bohemian Days” (pub. 1991) as “… a picturesque old chap … known as ‘Fairy Fitzgerald’ from the fact that his work, both colour and black and white, was devoted to fairy scenes, in fact his life was one long Midsummer Night’s Dream”1.

Fitzgerald was a member of the Maddox Street Sketching Club and of the Savage Club. He painted portrait and genre scenes and historical genre, but is widely known for his fairy paintings and fairy illustrations for the Illustrated London News to whom he contributed drawings in the 1850’s and 1860’s. Although he may have known the ‘Fairy Legends and Traditions in Southern Ireland’, oral tales collected by Thomas Croker and published 1825-28, his extraordinarily imaginative paintings rely less on literary sources than those of his contemporaries in this genre, Joseph Noel Paton (1821-1901), Robert Huskisson (1819-1861) and Richard Dadd (1817-1886), amongst others, and it has been suggested that some were the product of an imagination fuelled by opium.

Fitzgerald exhibited at the Royal Academy 1845-1902, at Suffolk Street, the British Institution, New Watercolour Society, and he was represented in the London International Exhibition of 1872.

His works can be found in museums in: Cardiff, National Museum of Wales; Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery and London, Guildhall.

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