Figure 1: Fanny Y. Cory (1877-1972), “Make Me a Mortal” (1903); Illustration from L. Frank Baum’s The Enchanted Island of Yew: Whereon Prince Marvel Encountered the High Ki of Twi and Other Surprising People (Bobbs-Merrill; 1903). L. Frank Baum, is of course, best known for his Oz books, fairy worlds, and magical creatures combined with an obvious playful love for language. In 1901, he wrote American Fairy Tales. In 1911, he wrote The Sea Fairies. In between these, in 1903, he published his tale of an enchanted island where a girl-fairy longs to live a completely different life, that of a mortal (and a mortal young man, at that). This illustration shows the fairy, “clothed in soft floating robes of rose and pearl color, and whose eyes shone…like two stars.” The fairy is asking the girls of Dawna— Seseley, Berna, and Helda— for their assistance, claiming “You are mortals, and by the laws that govern us, a mortal can change a fairy into anything she pleases.” The fairy then is transformed into the young knight, Prince Marvel, a “tall, slender youth with waving brown hair and dark eyes.” But in Fanny Cory’s first color plate for the 1903 edition of The Enchanted Island, she shows the fairy and the girls in all their delicate, pearl and rose-colored femininity, surrounded by ornamental, art nouveau iris stalks around the border of her highly-stylized composition. Cory was a popular illustrator for children’s books and periodicals in the early 1900s; in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, she became a nationally-syndicated newspaper cartoonist with her comics “Sonnysayings” and “Little Miss Muffett.” She also published her own books: a Mother Goose and a Fairy Alphabet, which the artist believed to be her best work.
In 1900, the magazine The Critic, cited the best virtues of Cory’s work as being “puckish humor and art nouveau.” These qualities are evident in this illustration: the lettering is humorous, even as the slender, etiolated ladies and fairy are juvenile and more innocent relatives to the eminently decorative women created by Alphonse Mucha and the Viennese artists working at this time. There is a distinctly draftsmanship quality to this composition—one never loses the lines—and a delicacy here which recalls Botticelli’s Young Man (compare the coloration of the eyes, nose, and mouth of the ladies and Botticelli) and is very different from Cory’s more robust later elves, gnomes, and fairies.
The artist here has chosen to depict a fairy that is an adolescent girl or, rather, a young maiden. This fairy, Baum’s “Prince Marvel,” is not written to be a pre-pubescent child and is not depicted as one. While fairy illustrations were common in England and America from the early nineteenth century to the opening of World War II, it is always an interesting comparison: does the artist skew her fay-folk as pseudo-cherubim, as tots, as virginal tweens, or as women (see Hughes)? Cory’s Fairy Alphabet shows a range of ages and moods and a more robust, harder style. But the 1903 “Make Me a Mortal” remains true to young womanhood (maybe even Cory’s?), to the organic, naturalistic, and stylized aesthetic of its time, and to Baum’s text. It is easy to think that had Cory’s near-contemporary, Cicely Mary Barker (active 1911-1962), illustrated this book, the fairy would have had innocence in common with Cory’s, but would also have skewed in Barker’s depiction as more eight than eighteen and would have been perhaps heavier on charm than on elegance (but with both in abundance). Cory is similar to the better-known Barker, but she is the flip-side to Barker’s coin. Cory’s early-twentieth-century illustrations should be remembered along with her long career in cartooning and it would be nice if her name would be listed more frequently alongside some of the other luminaries of fairy illustrators of that era: Barker, Margaret Tarrant, Arthur Rackham, and Kate Greenaway, for example. Cory is as talented as any of these.
Figure 2: Edward Robert Hughes (1851- 1914), Midsummer Eve (ca. 1907-8). There’s always been something about liminal spaces and times which seems to attract rumors of magical possibilities: crossroads and witches, equinoxes and opening of the veils between the seen and unseen worlds, similarly with dusk and dawn. Hughes, in this work, is playing with two of these at the same time: Midsummer Eve, “traditionally the time of the year when fairy power was thought to be at its strongest,” and dusk, an ambiguous time the artist represented as “mysterious and charged” in this work, as he had also done with his Twilight Phantasies and other paintings after 1905. Hughes explained “the coming of twilight is the time to see things, their harshness is softened…” and this piece demonstrates his use of color to create dim and ethereal lights which belong to softer, transitional moments.
Hughes himself, is often considered a “liminal” artist, straddling the intersections between First and Second Waves of the Pre-Raphaelites and the Symbolist artists. The intensely medieval (idealized pre-modern) aesthetic and the specificity of place (it’s very difficult to believe that tree in the right background is not tied to a particular spot in Hughes’ neck of the woods) tie Hughes firmly to the Pre-Raphaelite tradition, just as does his pedigree as the assistant of William Holman Hunt and his own sentiments: “having grown up among ardent exponents of Pre-Raphaelitism, the artistic ideals of which I share, my sympathies are reserved for that school.” It was also Pre-Raphaelitic to be connected with Symbolists: The mystical strain “typified” by Edward Burne-Jones, Solomon, and Gabriel Rossetti, no less than Hughes, has been frequently classified as Symbolist. Symbolist art often showcased poetic, mythic, or allegorical subjects and sought to replace the visual, mundane world with one they felt was more spiritually true: the often hidden world of magic, illusion, and imagination. The poetry of Charles Baudelaire is often held to be a literary example of Symbolism at its height and Hughes used the poetry of Baudelaire for the title of his Heart of Snow of 1907. While Midsummer’s Eve, with its fairy circle and magic, is thematically firmly Symbolist, the representation of the fairy as a woman, “powerfully sexualized” or “seductive” can also be seen as placing this work in the Symbolist camp, which frequently featured women who were “alluring, yet cold and forbidding…mysterious, allusive, and suggestive.” It seems most of all to be a Symbolist painting executed in Pre-Raphaelite language. And the way Hughes uses color (the lanterns) to create light demonstrates fully the reputation Hughes had among his contemporaries as a specialist in color and technical facility.
Figure 3: Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938), “The Fairy Ring” (1916); Illustration from his short story of the same name found in his book, Friendly Fairies (Bobbs-Merrill, 1960 edition; original 1916). Johnny Gruelle, an artist and illustrator (famously the creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy), lost his daughter, Marcella, to smallpox in 1915. In the short story illustrated here, “The Fairy Ring,” published just one year after Marcella’s death, Gruelle is writing and depicting centuries-old beliefs in the overlap between the fairy world and the world of the dead. For centuries, especially in England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, it was believed that fairies “took” the dead, or that the beloved dead would find places, forever young, dancing in fairy rings, seen and unseen, living among the remnants of a mysterious, ancestral past; a simultaneous but secret world, known and felt, but seldom seen. In “The Fairy Ring,” Gruelle writes of a very old and down-on-his-luck street violinist, who receives a magical iron ring as a tip: It transports him and his sister to a fairy ring, where “all about, laughing and talking, were hundreds of little fairies, gnomes, and sprites, and there, too, were the playmates of long ago…In his gladness he danced with joy.” In the morning, the landlord enters the siblings’ apartment and finds only the small iron ring (the “fairy ring”) which was vehicle and gift: the elderly persons have been transformed permanently, grafted into a magical, better world. The short story itself has much in common with O. Henry’s “The Last Leaf,” Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” and countless fairy/death folk stories from both the Old and New Worlds. The image is faithful to other descriptions of fairy rings: note that here in Gruelle’s illustration are the “little people” of gnomes, elves, and sprites, as well as the fairies themselves, sylph-like and generic, white-gowned in the right top side. And, in Gruelle’s version, the humans (presumably “taken,” transformed, or passed) are equal participants in the magic and musical circle. This is a thought of eternity, transformation, and the overlap of death, life, and magic which goes back centuries.
Gruelle’s style is comparable to many other contemporary illustrators, much like Fanny Cory. The faces of Gruelle’s folk, be they human or fairy, seem to me to have more in relation to Blanche Fisher Wright’s than to, say, Kate Greenaway: related, but not interchangeable. Gruelle’s father was a member of the Hoosier School of artists and it is not impossible that their Impressionist influence motivated the expressive and amorphous “drip” background of the left panel of this illustration.
Gruelle’s fairies, while less detailed than their spritely and human peers, are emphatically not the sensuous women of Hughes; they are not the pre-adolescent tots of a Barker. They have, in their way, the form of a thirteen-year-old girl. Did Gruelle imagine Marcella as one of these fairies, then, and himself, perhaps, as the violinist returned to youth? It’s difficult to say. But if so, if there were any night other than All Hallow’s Eve when such a thing would be possible, it would be Midsummer’s Eve. (Even if Gruelle placed his violinist firmly in winter.) “…your soul can leave your body on St. John’s Eve and wander to the spot where body and soul will ultimately experience earthly parting.” And this is, mainly, just what happens with Gruelle’s violinist and his sister.
Figure 4: Kinuko Y. Craft (b. 1940), Faery Reflection (Claire’s Wings) (ca. 2003-4). It would be easy to see Craft’s fairy in this image as the younger version of Hughes’ sensuous woman: a portrait of the fairy as a younger girl. Craft’s painting has much in common with Hughes’ Midsummer’s Eve: the coloration (strongly, darkly in forest greens and golds), the use of light, the attention to detail in the face (Hughes, a noted portraitist, and Craft, in this case, painting a portrait into a fantasy), an emphasis on atmosphere and mood, a naturalistic detail which becomes specific. Craft refers to herself as an “Imaginary Realist,” and this seems as good a description of this work as any. Here, the fairy looks over her shoulder at her reflection in a pond. The reflection is mirror-sharp, in some ways more clear than the original. It is a theme Craft explores in her other works, notably The Transformation of Angarred and Shakespeare’s Daughter. While the work plays with ideas of fairies, it is nearly impossible not to also be reminded of the myths of Pandora and Narcissus, and there is much in this image which recalls the standard imagery of the Star card in Tarot decks— even if the requisite jugs and stars are missing. The face of this child-fairy, much like Cory’s, recalls the linear delicacy of Botticelli. The youth, freshness, and naturalism would remind one of Margaret Tarrant or even of Cicely Mary Barker, but the mannered self-consciousness of this work has far more in common with Hughes.
As with angel wings (the bird-based wings of Caravaggio or the shield-types of Giotto), it’s an interesting element of fairy art to examine what wing type the artist chooses. For Craft, this image calls on dragonfly wings (and presumably the symbolism of “new beginning” and the magic of “four:” i.e. four seasons). For Kelly, the wings are those of the moth or butterfly and for Gruelle, there are only suggestive wisps.
Figure 5: Becky Kelly, from Hallmark “Spoonful of Stars” collection (2007). Becky Kelly is an American artist who cites the Impressionists, Carl Larsson, Henriette Willebeck Le Mair, and children’s illustrators of the 1920s and 1930s as influences. In this image, from her collection for Hallmark, the watercolor artist has depicted a child-fairy that combines the naturalistic detail, freshness, and innocence of Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy series with a frank American simplicity. This fairy of Kelly’s combines many of the aspects which Kelly writes about on her blog: “I make most of my fairy’s and children’s clothing white…” and “I use the darker foliage to contrast with the lighter peach color of awkward toes turned inward;” “Fairies have glistening wings painted to look like delicate, reflecting light, with an iridescent, opalescent quality. Her wings reflect all that surrounds.” Kelly also writes about her technique, which is additive: she works “from light to dark, starting with light glazes of watercolor, then building layers…” and she allows “parts of [the] paper to show to add shimmer and sparkles of dew on a leaf.” Kelly is no longer working for Hallmark, but her work is available to view on either of her websites (see Bibliography), one of which is about gardening, a love that is easy to understand by looking at the fresh peach in this equally fresh fairy’s hand.
Bibliography and Sources:
Aveni, Anthony. The Book of the Year: A Brief History of Our Seasonal Holidays. London: Oxford University Press, 2003.
Baum, L. Frank. The Enchanted Island of Yew: Whereon Prince Marvel Encountered the High Ki of Twi and Other Surprising People. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1903.
beckykelly.com (Becky Kelly)
beckykelly.blogspot.com (Becky Kelly)
enchantedtoad.blogspot.com (Becky Kelly)
Evans-Wentz, W. Y. The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries. Original, 1911. New York: Kensington, 1994, 1966.
fycory.com (Fanny Cory)
Gruelle, Johnny. Friendly Fairies. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1919. Reprint, 1960.
kycraft.com (Kinuko Craft)
larsonweb.com “Claire’s Wings” (Kinuko Craft)
Osborne, Victoria Jean. A British Symbolist in Pre-Raphaelite Circles: Edward Robert Hughes RWS (1851-1914). Thesis: University of Birmingham, 2009.
Wikipedia: entries for Cicely Mary Barker, Kate Greenaway, L. Frank Baum, Margaret Tarrant, Kinuko Y. Craft, Johnny Gruelle, Fanny Y. Cory, Edward Robert Hughes, The Star Card (Tarot)
Image credits: (1) The Enchanted Isle of Yew, 1903. (2) Wikimedia (circa 1907). (3) Friendly Fairies, 1919. (4) Kinuko Y. Craft, Duirwagh Gallery (2004) (5) Becky Kelly, “Spoonful of Stars,” Hallmark Cards, 2007.