Oberon and Titania as Artist Muses

The King and Queen of Fairyland in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon and Titania are two of the most prominent fairies in literary history. In Shakespeare’s play, the two fairies have a feud over a changeling child that Titania finds. Their plight and reconciliation have inspired artists for centuries.

“The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania” (above) and “The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania,” (below) painted by Joseph Noel Paton in 1846 and 1847, were praised widely for their technical achievements and special attention to Scottish and Celtic legend. Lewis Carroll famously counted 165 fairies in the painting while viewing it in Edinburgh in 1857. Here in the FairyRoom studio we have a small poster of Paton’s “Quarrel” and we’re trying to reach Carroll’s count, but we keep coming up short. Has anyone else confirmed Carroll’s count of 165?

Richard Dadd also took great interest in Oberon and Titania, featuring them in “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (below, find them in the upper center of the painting, looking over the sleeping patriarch. We pulled the regal fairies out in pink-rimmed detail for our readers).

Dadd’s approach to the fairy world was considerably darker, featuring many frail, tormented-looking fae folk seemingly lost in their own internal worlds. Dadd himself was deeply troubled, and painted this famous work in the years before being admitted to a hospital for the criminally insane. The painstaking detail of this painting, with its many lonely creatures and clashing blades of grass breaking the frame, causes a scenic chaos, which is tempting to compare this cacophony of visual information to the harmony and unity of Paton’s equally-busy paintings.

Henry Fuseli made a number of works based on Oberon and Titania. His works, like Dadd’s, were dark and nightmarish. “Titania and Bottom,” painted in 1790 (below), captures the pivotal moment in which Oberon casts a spell on Titania, causing her to fall in love with the ass-headed fairy Bottom.

We’ve collected a list of many more exquisite depictions of Shakepeare’s Fairy King and Queen. Did we miss any?