The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke

painted by Richard Dadd

The painting(200K JPEG) that Freddie used for the inspiration for his song of the same name is a Victorian painting by the little known English artist Richard Dadd. It usually hangs in the Tate Gallery in London (nearest underground, Pimlico).

The various groups in the lower circle, moving counter-clockwise from the Fairy-Feller are: Ostler, Monk Ploughman and 'Waggoner Will'; two-men-about- town: a clodhopper with satyr's head (seated), a politician, 'some fairy dandy', and his nymph, two elves, a pedagogue (crouching), and the arch magician behind; two ladie's maids, Lubin and his 'Chloe or Phyllis'; two dwarf conjurers. Along the brim of the magician's hat are Queen Mab and her cortege on the left, spanish dancers on the right, with Oberon and Titania and 'a harridan' higher up. At the top left are a 'Tatterdemalion and a Junketer' and 'a dragonfly trumpeter'; to the right are soldier, sailor, tinker, tailor, ploughboy, apothecary, thief.

Buying a print of the painting

The Tate Gallery does a mail order serice. A full size poster print of "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" (paper 70cm*50cm - image 52.8cm*38.3cm) is available by mail order or telephone.

There is also a postcard and a 35mm colour slide available.


There don't seem to be any books easily available on Dadd. There was a book published by Tate Gallery Publications in 1974 called "The Late Richard Dadd 1817-1886" (by Patricia Allderidge, ISBN 0 900874 78 3) published to coincide with an exhibition of Dadd's complete works at the Gallery in the summer of 1974 (it then toured round the rest of England and Europe for another year after that). The book is a definitive collection of Dadd's paintings and all associated inforamtion about him. It runs to 172 pages with 250 plates including some in colour. The book is, unfortunately, long since out of print. It is particularly interesting how, in many of his paintings before he painted the "Fairy Feller", he seemed to be preparing for it and often explores many of the same themes.

The following quote is taken from the gallery's guide.

--Excerpt from "Looking at pictures in the Tate Gallery":
               ISBN 0 905005 61 9 (Tate Gallery Publications)
In a long poem, written about the time he finished it, the painter tells us that they have gathered at the command of the white bearded man in the middle with a gold hat and club. They are watching the Fairy Feller in brown who is about to split open a nut with his axe to make a new carriage for the Fairy Queen, Mab. Her tiny figure can be seen riding in the old one across the brim of the bearded man's hat

The idea comes from Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" "Queen Mab .. comes .. drawn with a team of little atomies .. her wagoner a small grey coated gnat ... Her chariot is an empty hazel shell"

Apparently, the painting began with a canvas on which he spread some paint roughly. He looked at this in the way that you look at clouds and painted what the marks seemed to suggest. This allowed his fantasy to grow far beyond the original idea. Perhaps it is also why the whole picture seems full from bottom to top. It was a beautiful way of working.

The long thin grasses are a beautiful invention. They partly hide the fairies and make you believe you might have missed them even though they were always there. They also show you the size of the figures - it would be difficult to tell otherwise

--End excerpt
Most comment on Dadd focusses on the fact that he went mad and killed his own father and spent the rest of his life in Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane.