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John Anster Fitzgerald

(1832 - 1906)

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.