Fairytale illustrations by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale – the best British Victorian watercolourist
The Victorian era gave the world fantastic stories about elves and fairies, the movement of the Pre-Raphaelites, a return to medieval images and ideals. The last representative of this Victorian art was Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale, a watercolorist who embodied the enchanted world of legends about King Arthur on paper.
Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale was born in 1871 into a family of lawyers famous throughout Norwood. Her father was a successful lawyer, and the family did not know the constraint in money. Young Eleanor studied at home under the supervision of governesses and visiting teachers, carefully guarded from the hardships and vices of the world. However, there were not so many entertainments in her life – no more than a well-bred girl should be in prim Victorian England, where children were ordered to be disciplined and serious almost from birth. The nature is bright and inquisitive, she ran away into the world of fairy tales and fantasies in order to escape from the boring everyday life. Since childhood, Eleanor showed the ability to painting, and it was completely impossible to ignore them – she did not part with the album and a box of watercolor paints. As a teenager, she took lessons from John Ruskin himself – the famous art critic, philosopher, critic, who discovered the Pre-Raphaelites.
Eleanor’s talent was undeniable, but she did not immediately receive professional recognition.
But Eleanor dreamed of becoming a professional artist, devoting herself to art. From the age of seventeen, she sought to get into the Royal Academy of Arts, but women were reluctantly taken there.
Back in 1860, the academy officially opened its doors to women, but this did not mean that gifted artists could get there and study on a par with men. Despite the growing number of prominent artists and writers, Victorian England was not the most comfortable place for creative women – and for women in general. And a woman with a brush in her hands was considered a phenomenon, to put it mildly, unnatural, and strict examiners weeded out even the most talented girls, guided only by their prejudices.
Eleanor stormed the walls of the Royal Academy three times – and all three times without success. Only in 1897, already an recognized artist, she was able to achieve her place in the ranks of her students. In her first year of study, Eleanor won a large cash prize for a mural at the annual exhibition at the academy. Subsequently, the Royal Academy repeatedly proudly exhibited paintings by Eleanor.
It was during the years of study at the academy that Eleanor came under the influence of the last representatives of the Pre-Raphaelite fraternity, met with John Waterhouse and the John Bayem Liston Show – artists passionate about the images of the Middle Ages. When Shaw opened his school, he invited Eleanor to teach a course in watercolor painting there.
Victorian England in those years was fascinated by the legends of the Arthurian cycle, fairy tales, fairy tales of Mallory and folk ballads. The “Celtic Revival”, which reigned throughout the UK, the Arts and Crafts movement, advocated for a return to the roots, the flowering of Victorian fairytale painting, the atmosphere of escapism and the search for lost ideals – all this inspired the sophisticated and romantic Eleanor. Victorian fairytale painting could be insane, imbued with opium couples, generated by the narcotic imagination, but Eleanor sought only for uncomplicated beauty.
She was brought to fame with watercolors on fabulous themes that caused a stir among collectors. She was invited to illustrate poetic works, and panels made by Eleanor adorned the walls of representatives of aristocratic families.
Her most famous works are illustrations of legends about the Knights of the Round Table and King Arthur. Dreamy medieval virgins, brave knights, fairies and elves, the wizard Marilyn became her favorite characters.
However, Eleanor also illustrated classical literary works – for example, Shakespeare’s plays or Dickens’ novels, as well as books by her contemporaries.