The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke (FFM)
July 18, 2002 12:35 AM   Subscribe

The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke (FFM) (in the Tate collection) Richard Dadd, a Victorian gentleman, a convicted murderer and patient at the famous Bedlam asylum, spent nine years carefully crafting his masterpiece. He wrote a guidebook for it and insisted that each of the hundred characters in the painting is assigned a special task. What does he mean? Well, Neil Gaiman, among others, was inspired by this painting (it influenced the Sandman) and considers it a life-long obsession. He also wrote the introduction to a new book being published about the painting as a gateway to the supernatural world.

A bit of background: Dadd was a painter of Victorian Fairy Art. The obsession with fairies was like a fever that overtook the Victorian Mind. Another painter of note was Richard Doyle, the uncle of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes). A.C. Doyle himself was involved in a fascinating controversy that raged at the time. the Cottingley fairies, in which two young girls circulated photos of themselves with fairies. Doyle proclaimed that the photos "represent either the most elaborate and ingenious hoax ever played upon the public or else they constitute an event in human history which may in the future appear to have been epoch-making in its character" Unfortunately for Doyle, it was the former though the hoax was hardly ingenious, relying on cardboard cutouts and the will to believe.
posted by vacapinta (18 comments total)
Fascinating stuff. I had never heard of Dadd, or seen any of his paintings. Great link!
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:59 AM on July 18, 2002

ffm - ooh scary. i am intrigued by the foreground sheaves. don't stare at it too long - it'll send you mad, mad i tells ya! *wild roll of eyes*
kind of reminds me of h p lovecraft stories involving summoning *them* via art of some sort.
posted by asok at 4:04 AM on July 18, 2002

thank you vacapinta! now i know where brian and freddy found the inspiriation that led to queen II.
posted by quonsar at 4:43 AM on July 18, 2002

Nice job of summing up a good many pertinent links to round out the subject that is the center of your theme. You are doing welol in this class and should end up with a very fine grade...but watch attendence!
posted by Postroad at 5:00 AM on July 18, 2002

and Conan Doyle belived that Houdini had real powers and would return from the dead... more fairy photo's here.
posted by dabitch at 5:11 AM on July 18, 2002

hundred characters? some must be very small, or is that link to a detail from a larger picture?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:13 AM on July 18, 2002

There was an awful movie about the Doyle/Houdini/fairy thing; "A Fairy Tale." Not recommended, but an obligatory mention.
posted by bingo at 5:14 AM on July 18, 2002

Not sure if it's actually true or not, but I'm pretty sure Richard Dadd is somewhere in my family tree.

I will try and research it a bit more...
posted by robzster1977 at 5:28 AM on July 18, 2002

There was an awful movie about the Doyle/Houdini/fairy thing; "A Fairy Tale."

Awful to you. My 6 yo daughter ate it up, she's obsessed with fairies. "Fairy's rule!", according to a poster she made for her room. I'll definitely be sharing this fairy art with her, thanks vacapinta.
posted by luser at 5:49 AM on July 18, 2002

Great post, V.(do you have a preference for abbreviation? I'd rather not assume to call somebody "cow" *grin*)

I was wondering about the character count, too. Considering the detail, I started looking around to see if some of them were hidden in the scenery. Anyone found a larger image?
posted by Su at 6:14 AM on July 18, 2002

A fine, fine fascinating post. Dadd's painting is mesmerizing!
posted by Marquis at 6:48 AM on July 18, 2002

he was moved to the Clermont asylum at Fontainebleau, where a search revealed a list of people "who must die"

Well, who doesn't have one of those? Right? And who hasn't crossed off a name or two?


Perhaps it's an unfair comparison, but I find myself thinking of Henry Darger.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:50 AM on July 18, 2002

Wow! vacapinta, great post!!

I've done quite a bit of reading about the Cottingley fairies over the years, and I've read tangentially about this artist and this painting in particular, but I'd never sought it out to look at it - and it looks nothing like I expected - much more based in realism than I'd expected (I, too had always assumed his work would look more like that of Henry Darger). I'm going to have to go seek out a copy of the guidebook now....
posted by anastasiav at 7:34 AM on July 18, 2002

Wonderful. Thanks so much for the link.
posted by jokeefe at 8:12 AM on July 18, 2002

More here.รข??
posted by interrobang at 8:51 AM on July 18, 2002

"Photographing Fairies". The novel. Sheer genius.
posted by Faze at 9:20 AM on July 18, 2002

The University of Iowa hosted an exhibition of victorian Faire paintings a few years ago, and I was fortunate enough to catch it. Dadd's painting was among those on display.

What you don't get from the image (which is about life size) of the painting is just how layered it is. Those blades of grass in the foreground (that they viewer seems to be peering through) jump off the canvas - it's as though they were blind embossed from the other side.

It's really quite extraordinary.
posted by aladfar at 1:45 PM on July 18, 2002

I was wondering about the character count, too

I haven't seen this painting either but to re-iterate aladfar, all the notes I found tend to emphasize that this is a 3-d painting in many respects. Even if you look closely at this reproduction you can make out fairies, for example, standing on a vine above the head of one of the two women on the left - theres even a fairy couple, smaller, to the right of that (she has a tiny red dress which is all that you can really see here). I suppose right now only the original shows the level of detail necessary to make these distinctions.
posted by vacapinta at 3:50 PM on July 18, 2002

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