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UI Museum of Art hosts only U.S. showing of "Victorian Fairy Painting" through May 24

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- "Victorian Fairy Painting," the first comprehensive exhibition ever devoted to this distinctly English genre, will open at the University of Iowa Museum of Art Saturday, Feb. 28 after having been displayed throughout the winter at the Royal Academy of Arts, London. The exhibition, on display at the museum through May 24 in its only U.S. showing, will be the centerpiece for a series of events and programs across several disciplines at the UI.

The exhibition and its companion book will examine the portrayal of fairies in art and literature from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. The exhibition will include more than 70 paintings by both well and lesser known artists, including Henry Fuseli, J.M.W. Turner, Richard Dadd, John Anster Fitzgerald, Daniel Maclise, Joseph Noel Paton, Edwin Landseer, Richard Doyle, Arthur Rackham and Edward Robert Hughes.

The Museum of Art will celebrate the exhibition's opening from noon to 5 p.m., Sunday, March 1. Lionel Lambourne, emeritus head of paintings of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, will speak about the exhibition for the annual Bette Spriestersbach Lecturer at 1 p.m. At 2 p.m., harpist Janis Cintron will perform 19th-century Celtic music. Refreshments will be served throughout the afternoon.

Many of the museum's weekly "Perspectives" programs will be thematically related to the exhibition, beginning with a gallery tour of "Victorian Fairy Painting" at 12:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 4, led by Pamela White Trimpe, curator of the exhibition and the assistant director and curator of painting and sculpture at the UI Museum of Art.

Also in connection with the exhibition, the Museum of Art will present "Art to Enchant," a symposium on the portrayal of fairies from Shakespeare through the 19th century, April 3-5. "Enchanted and Enchanting Kingdoms," a display of rare fairy-tale books, will be at the UI Main Library through mid-May, and University Theatres' mainstage production of Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" will be performed in Mabie Theatre at 8 p.m. April 2-4 and 8-11, and at 3 p.m. April 5 and 12.

The fairy theme will also be a part of the museum's "Widen Our World" (WOW) program for area third graders, as well as the WOW "Family Day" event, noon - 5 p.m. Sunday, April 19. The family-oriented event will provide gallery tours of the exhibition, as well as related activities, games, and music.

In addition to these events, the museum's "Art of the Month" minicourse will focus on 19th-century European prints, and the UI School of Music Opera Theater will present "Romeo and Juliet," an opera by Charles Gounod, May 1-3 at the Clapp Recital Hall.

Fairy painting was commercially and critically popular during the 19th century. It combined the Romantic interest in fantastic subject matter with the realistic techniques of Victorian painting. These qualities allowed fairy painting to bring together for the first time some of the most important concerns of 19th-century British art: the nude, the romantic landscape, the costume study, the sentimental narrative and imagery from literary, theatrical and historical sources.

Because it combines many of these elements on one canvas, fairy painting is a particularly incisive tool with which to address the nuances of the Victorian mindset. The exhibition will consider fairy painting in a historical as well as an aesthetic context. The impact of the IndustrialRevolution, Darwin's discoveries and other developments of 19th-century Britain will be examined, along with sexuality, religious dogma, nationalism and other social issues of the time.

Though fairy painting was primarily a Victorian achievement, the fascination with fairies and other mythical creatures is present throughout English literature. The paintings' story lines are frequently derived from the legends of the ancient Celts and Saxons. Victorian notions of fairies, however, were greatly inspired by characters in literary works derived from myth by Shakespeare, Pope, Spenser and others. Critics frequently name Shakespeare's Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and Ariel in "The Tempest" as the quintessential fairy models.

The Victorian fascination with fairyland reflected a Shakespearean revival in the theater and the introduction of fairy themes into Romantic ballet. Plays and ballets at this time were enlivened by dramatic transformation scenes, actors "flew" on wires, and the introduction of limelight in 1826 made eerie lighting effects possible. One section of the exhibition will illustrate the development of such stage effects in theater, ballet and pantomime and will include designs for costumes and stage scenery.

The Victorian interest in the mythical world was also fueled by works in translation, including Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm's "German Popular Stories." The availability of such texts reflects the growth of a literate audience in the middle of the 19th century.

Though the popularity of fairy painting began to wane later in the century, advances in education and mass printing technology encouraged the adaptation of fairy subjects into printed media. Their appeal to children made illustrated fairy tales an ideal carrier of moral messages.

Fairy stories were also used in lavishly printed gift books into the 20th century. As with the empirical sciences, the advent of photography and its extreme realism may ultimately have lead to a demand for more fantastic art. The exhibition will feature several examples of printed fairy works.

The annual Spriestersbach Lecture at the Museum of Art honors Bette R. Spriestersbach, a museum docent and a former program associate in the Child Health Specialty Clinics in the UI Hospital School. She is the wife of former UI vice president Duane C. Spriestersbach, who endowed the lecture in 1992 through a gift to the University of Iowa Foundation.

This year's Spriestersbach lecturer, Lionel Lambourne was head of paintings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London 1986-93 and is now working as a writer. He has traveled widely as a curator of exhibitions in Great Britain, Canada, the United States, Germany and Japan. His exhibitions have included "Victorian Christmas," "British Caricature" and "Sporting Life," and he has also enjoyed celebrating in exhibitions British institutions including the "200th Anniversary of the Derby" and the 150th anniversary of Punch magazine.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum Lambourne organized an exhibition of the works of the Victorian cartoonists and fairy painters Richard Doyle and his brother Charles, the father of the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Other exhibitions he organized were of English watercolors and miniature paintings. Lambourne has written extensively on Victorian art and is currently working on a major study of Victorian painting.

Harpist Janis Cintron has worked extensively with harpist Frank Walsh and is a former member of the Irish folk group Stones in the Field. She has performed at arts and music festivals in the Midwest, including the Dubuque Rose Festival and the St. Xavier Irish Festival in Chicago. A classically trained pianist, she taught herself how to play the harp, successfully translating the piano's chromatic scale to the harp's diatonic one.

"Victorian Fairy Painting" was organized by Trimpe, working with Jane Martineau of the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and independent scholar Charlotte Gere. The late Jeremy Maas, who wrote the lead essay in the exhibition catalog, provided inspiration and guidance in the planning of the exhibition. It opened at the Royal Academy Nov. 13, 1997 and was on display there through Feb. 8, 1998. After its showing at the UI Museum of Art it will travel to the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada, where it will be shown June 23 through Sept. 13, 1998.

The UI Museum of Art, located on North Riverside Drive in Iowa City, is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Public metered parking is available in UI parking lots across from the museum on Riverside Drive, and adjacent to the UI Alumni Center, which is just north of the museum.

M.C. Ginsberg Objects of Art, Inc. of Iowa City is the corporate sponsor for the 1997-98 Perspectives series at the UI Museum of Art, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

The exhibition catalog, "Victorian Fairy Painting," was published by Merrell Holberton, London. This exhibition is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, United Airlines and United Airlines World-Wide Cargo, the Freedom Group, the Iowa Humanities Board, Old Capitol Mall, private individuals, the British Council and the British Consulate-General, Chicago.

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"Victorian Fairy Painting"

Related events at the University of Iowa


Sunday, March 1, noon Museum of Art

1 p.m., Bette Spriestersbach Lecture, Lionel Lambourne, speaker

2 p.m., 19th-Century Celtic music, Janis Cintron, harp


Wednesday, March 4, 12:30 p.m. Museum of Art

Gallery Tour of "Victorian Fairy Paintings," led by Pamela Trimpe

Wednesday, March 11, 12:30 p.m. Museum of Art

Lecture and Gallery Tour of "Ancestors, Djinns and Orisha: Spirit Beings in Africa,"

Christopher Roy, speaker

Wednesday, April 1, 12:30 p.m. Museum of Art

"19th-Century Religion in Great Britain," Jeffrey Cox, speaker

Wednesday, April 8, 12:30 p.m. Museum of Art

Film and gallery talk: "The Pre-Raphaelite Revolt," with Pamela Trimpe, speaker


"Love, Death and Despair: An Exploration of 19th-century Romantic Prints from the Permanent Collection"

Saturday, March 14, 10 a.m. Museum of Art

Session II: "Death and Decay: Comprehending Goya's World," Missy Gaido Allen, speaker

Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. Museum of Art

Session III: "And the Past Came Tumbling Down: Piranesi's 'Le Antichita Romane',"

Missy Gaido Allen, speaker

Saturday, May 9, 10 a.m. Museum of Art

Session IV: "Sweet Dreams of Terror: Nightmare Envisioned," Jessica Locheed, speaker


Friday, April 3, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Museum of Art

Saturday, April 4, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Museum of Art

Sunday, April 5, 1 p.m. Museum of Art

1 p.m., "The Power of Enchantment," Marilyn Stokstad, speaker

2 p.m., "Musical Settings of Fairy Tales," Sven Hansell, coordinator

"A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM" by William Shakespeare, University Theatres Mainstage

April 2-3 and 8-11, 8 p.m., E.C. Mabie Theatre, Theatre Building

April 5 and 12, 3 p.m., E.C. Mabie Theatre, Theatre Building

"ROMEO AND JULIET" by Charles Gounod, University of Iowa Opera Theater

May 1, 8 p.m., Clapp Recital Hall

May 2-3, 2 p.m., Clapp Recital Hall


"Enchanted and Enchanting Kingdoms"

North Exhibition Hall, University Main Library

Through Mid-May


Sunday, April 19, 12 noon-5 p.m. Museum of Art


Sunday , May 10 Museum of Art

1 p.m., Docent-led Tour of "Victorian Fairy Painting"

2 p.m., La Fosse Baroque Ensemble, Leopold La Fosse, director