John Anster Christian Fitzgerald

(ca. 1819 - 1906)

Victorian era fairy painter and portrait artist. Fitzgerald appears to have been baptised at St Mary's church, Lambeth, 5 February 1823, perhaps eldest son but at least second child of at least five. However on his death in 1906 he is said to have been aged 87. The year of his birth, in Lambeth Surrey, has been variously given, though 1819 is the likeliest. He was of Irish ancestry, the son of the minor poet, William Thomas Fitzgerald. In 1849, Fitzgerald married Mary Ann Barr and they raised at least four sons and a daughter.

He was nicknamed "Fairy Fitzgerald" for his main genre. Many of his fairy paintings are dark and contain images of ghouls, demons, and references to drug use; his work has been compared to the surreal nightmare-scapes of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel.

As an artist, Fitzgerald appears to have been largely self-taught. His work was first shown at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in 1845; he also exhibited at the British Institution, the Society of British Artists, and the Royal Watercolour Society. In the late 1850s he created a series of Christmas fairies for The Illustrated London News.

Fitzgerald gave his works titles that often gave little clear indication of their subjects; art dealers and collectors frequently renamed them, causing great confusion in his artistic canon. Some of Fitzgerald's titles, like 'The Pipe Dream' and 'The Captive Dreamer', suggest that "Fitzgerald was familiar with the opium dens which, with chloral and laudanum, represented the Victorian drug scene."

Fitzgerald created "remarkable fairy pictures of pure fantasy, rarely based on any literary theme." His paintings often use brilliant colors, especially reds, blues, and purples, as in 'The Captive Robin'. He produced a major series of paintings on the Cock Robin theme -- among others, 'Who Killed Cock Robin?', 'Cock Robin Defending his Nest', and 'Fairies Sleeping in a Bird's Nest' (the last furnished with a frame made out of twigs).

Reclusive by nature, Fitzgerald had limited connections with other artists. He existed mainly at his London club, the Savage Club. Fellow members, reminiscing of him post mortem, recalled that he was adept at imitating the great actors of earlier generations, Edmund Kean, Charles Kemble, and William Charles Macready.

The final work Fitzgerald exhibited at the Royal Academy, in 1902, was a picture of 'Alice in Wonderland'. Twentieth-century art forgers have been active in creating phony Fitzgerald fairy pictures. The forgeries were discovered when analysis revealed modern pigments.

[Wikipedia; Census, 1881. Residents of 3 Mawson Row, Chiswick, Middlesex, now Chiswick Lane South.;]

One of the more recent losses was J.A. Fitzgerald, an artist who will probably be more appreciated in time to come than he was in his own lifetime. Because of the character of much of his work he was known among us as "Fairy Fitzgerald". He was a curious link between our own and an earlier time. His father was one of the poets who were scarified in Lord Byron's "English Bards and Scotch Reviewers." Said Byron:
'Let hoarse Fitzgerald bawl
His creaking couplets in a tavern hall.'

That takes us back very far indeed. The son was much over eighty when he died. He was an artist of curiously varied qualifications, sufficiently distinguished to get a pension from the Royal Academy. Those who possess early volumes of The Illustrated London News will find double-page illustrations of his in special numbers, along with similar contributions from John Gilbert, Birket Foster, Harrison Weir, and "Sam" Reid. The last desire of his heart was to die in the Savage Club. It was a weird idea; but in his latter days he came every Saturday expecting to die, and only missed his expectation by three or four days." -- From The Savage Club: a medley of history, anecdote and reminiscence by Aaron Watson, published in London, 1907.

Fitzgerald was also a member of the Sketching Club, another Bohemian arts club, and other reminiscences remark that Fitzgerald was almost as noted as his poet father for his "histrionic gifts".

Fitzgerald, John Anster (1823-1906), known by his friends as 'Fairy Fitzgerald', Irish painter of highly original fantasy and fairy scenes. Little is known about his life and travels, but his grotesque goblin creations suggest that he must have been familiar with works by Brueghel and Bosch. It is also clear that his various 'dream' paintings refer to drug‐induced hallucinations. 'The Artist's Dream' (1857), for instance, shows an artist asleep, dreaming of the fairy he is painting, while in the foreground nightmare figures caper round his chair, one of them offering him a potion in a glass. In 'Fairies in a Bird's Nest' (c.1860) the two fairy figures are dwarfed by the menacing Bosch‐like aberrations that crowd the canvas.

The website, show birth year as 1823, as do several other web references and sources I reviewed. Had he been born in the widely accepted birth year, 1819, he would have been 87 years at the time of his death. However, had his birth year been 1823, he would have been 83 years of age. Vague sources write that he was baptised at St. Mary's church, Lambeth, 5 February 1823, thus the assumption this was also his birth year. My University textbooks and other sources show (approximate) ca. 1819 as his accepted birth year.

Tate Gallery ('Tate') operates This a most accurate, reliable source of Art/Artist information. John Anster Fitzgerald (1819‑1906)
We Heart It shows John Anster Fitzgerald (1832-1906).
© 2013 MacConnal-Mason shows John Anster Fitzgerald (1832 - 1906). has a large collection of Fitzgerald's paintings on their website.

View painter's art: John Anster Fitzgerald (ca. 1819-1906) [new window view]