Iconography of Fairies, Disney’s Fantasia and other stuff

In few days time, for our Sunday story, I will publish something about Disney’s Fantasia and, in particular, something around The Pastoral Symphony, originally intended to be a more obscure mash-up between a French ballet and a Russian opera. It is only fair, however, that I dedicate another post to the most Christmassy piece of […]

In few days time, for our Sunday story, I will publish something about Disney’s Fantasia and, in particular, something around The Pastoral Symphony, originally intended to be a more obscure mash-up between a French ballet and a Russian opera. It is only fair, however, that I dedicate another post to the most Christmassy piece of what was originally known as The Concert Feature: The Nutcracker Suite.
Tonight is a night in which, traditionally, women of my geographical area used to stay up all night, crafting stuff and telling each other stories. It was known with a vernacular term which can be loosely translated as “the night of the big rooster”, but if you want to go ahead and call it “the night of the big cock”, by all means go ahead and be my guest.
So, with this piece I’ll try and honour the tradition: I’ll tell you some stories. It’s not like you have anywhere else to be, right?

1. The Music and the Story

Unlike what I will do for The Pastoral Symphony, this time I want to start from the music, although I’m no music expert, because the structure of this ballet had always fascinated me and the concept of a fairy ballet is something to be looked up. The Nutcracker is originally conceived by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892 as a two-act ballet, following a story that is a loose adaptation of a novel by E.T.A. Hoffmann: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
The story, written in 1816, narrates the adventure of young Marie Stahlbaum when her favourite and newly-acquired Christmas toy, a wooden nutcracker, comes to life in order to save her against the evil Mouse-King and brings her in an enchanted kingdom full of fantastic things. It was then retold  by Alexandre Dumas, in 1844 under the title Histoire d’un casse-noisette, and this is the version Tchaikovsky is looking at, while writing his ballet almost 50 years later. The story had already been brought to music, in 1855 when composer Carl Reinecke created eight pieces based on the story, but it’s definitely the most important adaptation of an otherwise little-known novel.

What Tchaikovsky does, is following pretty much the story as narrated by Dumas: he simplifies the background, omitting everything as to how the prince came to be a nutcracker, and embellishes the fairy-world with characters that will allow him to put all the numbers he intends. He worked with Marius Petipa, who had previously choreographed Sleeping Beauty, and Lev Ivanov, second balletmaster of the Imperial Ballet.

Konstantin Ivanov’s original sketch for the set of The Nutcracker (1892)

The first performance of the ballet was held at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, but it wasn’t well received by critics: dancers were variously criticized, the choreography was considered confused and the libretto was accused of not being faithful enough to the original tale.
In 1919, choreographer Alexander Gorsky tried a variation in which the children were played by adults, making things a little better, but still the ballet wasn’t as popular as the Suite, a selection of eight of the numbers intended for concert performance. This is the piece that we find in Fantasia and it includes:

  1. Miniature Overture;
  2. Danses caractéristiques:
    1. Marche;
    2. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy;
    3. Russian Dance;
    4. Arabian Dance;
    5. Chinese Dance;
    6. Reed Flutes.
  3. Waltz of the Flowers.

Fantasia furtherly shrinks this selection, omitting the Overture and the March.

2. The Nutcracker in Fantasia

The Nutcracker Suite had been one of the pieces selected for the Concert Feature since the very beginning, alongside Maurice Ravel‘s Bolero, the March of the Little Lead Soldiers by Gabriel Pierné, the Dance of the Hours and many other pieces. Some of them made it to the final cut, others didn’t and were either worked upon for further development, recycled for other collection of cartoons or scraped entirely.

The segment was directed by Samuel Armstrong, who also directed the abstract segment with Toccata and Fugue in D Minor by Bach. Though it would have been obvious to narrate the same story that was presented in the ballet, story developers decided to go in a different direction and made it about seasons passing and forces of nature manifesting and, perhaps, more of a fairy-ballet than Tchaikovsky originally intended. Samuel also worked on Claire de Lune, one of the unreleased features that eventually saw the light in Make Mine Music.

Sylvia Moberly-Holland, one of the main story developers, was an architect and amateur photographer, graduated in 1919 at the Architectural Association School in London and the first woman to join the Royal Institute of British Architects. She applied at Disney’s after seeing Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937 and had previously worked as as an inker for Walter Lantz Productions. She was hired in September 1938 and thus became the second woman hired into their story department, following Bianca Majolie. Her first assignment was to work at the Pastoral Symphony, but by December 1938 she was supervising the “Waltz of the Flowers” sequence.
According to John Canemaker in a chapter dedicated to her in his Before the Animation Begins: The Art and Lives of Disney Inspirational Sketch Artists:

Disney regarded her as “a highly talented artist with a marvelous sense for decoration and color, … who contributed immensely to the good taste and beauty of our pictures”.

Holland originally started working on the Cydalise Suite, what would become The Pastoral Symphony, but was soon requested to help with the “Waltz of the Flowers”, because of her musical knowledge and her knack for working with natural elements such as flowers and fruits. In December 1938 she was joined by Ethel Kulsar, who came from the Ink and Paint Department where lots of other women worked and became her assistant, probably because no man could be placed to be the assistant of a woman: they took sketches created some years before by Bianca Majolie and Ferdinand Horvath for what was being called The Flower Ballet, an abandoned project, and made different proposals around the subject.

Sylvia Holland also worked as a children’s illustrator for Whitman Publishing, as well as a greetings card designer for MacMillan’s Readers and Chryston Limited Edition.


She teamed up with other developers, such as Norman Wright, Albert Heath and Graham Heid, who will also do sequence directing for Bambi. More notably, the team also included Bianca Majolie, born Bianca Maggioli: if Sylvia Holland was the second woman hired as other than a colourist at Disney, Bianca was the first.

She had studied art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and McKinley High School, where she first met Disney briefly, and then went on studying figure painting and design at the Grand Central School of Art, clay sculpturing at Art Students League, and “drawing for line continuity” at Leonardo da Vinci Art School in New York, whatever that was. She worked as a fashion illustrator, magazine art director, comic strip artist, before being hired at Disney in a fully-male story department in 1935. Her first work was an outline story titled “The Romance of Baby Elephant”, which then went into production as the Silly Symphony Elmer Elephant. On the colleagues, who were mainly developing what would have been called “barnyard humour”, the work made a deep impression.

We could not have made any of the feature films without learning this important lesson: Pathos gives comedy the heart and warmth that keeps it from becoming brittle. (animators Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston)

Being the first prominent woman at Disney, you can find lots of interesting articles on her: see here, here and here.

During the development of Fantasia, she also worked on some concepts for the Lead Soldiers March, which would later become the Little Tin Man in Fantasia 2000. In particular, she did concepts for the jack-in-the-box villain (and the story ended badly).

Character designs were left in the hands of John Walbridge, to whom Didier Ghez dedicates a whole chapter in one of his They Drew As They Pleased volumes.

[He] was one of the less noticeable members of Joe Grant’s Character Model Department, probably due to his style’s versatility, which made his drawings much harder to identify than those of his colleagues Kay Nielsen, Jack Miller, James Bodrero, and Martin Provensen. And yet, he was part of this elite group for a reason: He was a master at creating entertaining, well-designed, and instantly memorable incidental characters and props.

He graduated from Oakland Technical High School and then went to the California Academy of Fine Art, after having turned down universities such as Berkeley for both lack of funding and the will to become a cartoonist more than an artist. He started working as a cartoonist for the Oakland Post Enquirer and then joined Disney in 1935. He practically invented the character department, as there was no such thing back then, by working on stuff like the dancing gloves and telephone for the short Mickey Mouse cartoon Thru the Mirror (1936).

Johnny [Walbridge] was assigned to The Nutcracker Suite, and the characters he developed are the stars of the sequence—the goldfish in the Arabian Dance, the thistles in the Russian Dance, and the moth-wing fairies in the Waltz of the Flowers are all his.
But it is with the mushrooms from the Chinese Dance that he would gain his biggest claim to fame.

Story sketch in the style of Johnny Walbridge (meaning that we’re not sure it’s actually his stuff)

In November 1938, looking at a model sheet created by Walbridge that showed a mushroom lighting lantern flowers with glowworms and poppy dancers in the shape of Chinese mandarins, Walt declared to his team: I like those models. I don’t think we can improve much on them. They’re the result of a hell of a lot of work. Johnny worked on them a year or so ago for months, then came back with these new ones that I think are very good.

Indeed Disney was right.

Other artists working on characters included Elmer Plummer, a watercolor artist on whom you can read more here, and sketch artist Ethel Kulsar, the assistant of Sylvia Holland. It’s both hilarious and infuriating to read as some of the men couldn’t be involved in working on some things, like the faeries for the Nutcracker sequence. It’s a story you can read in the chapter dedicated to Sylvia Holland herself within Part 1 of the volume dedicated to the 40s in the They Drew as They Pleased series, where the author interviews Sylvia Holland’s son and he replies, on the matter:

I don’t want to subtract any of the credit that the men have for those beautiful scenes, but this was the stage when they wandered in and out of each other’s rooms and Mother had to hold herself back – she was so full of suggestions… and the men were often at a loss. “I’m out of my depth here, this isn’t my style.” But they grey into it and she was older than they were, and so she almost mothered them along and encouraged them and talked of beauty, and said, “It is beautiful, it is delicate”… Her interest in breaking people away form unnecessary restrictions found expression as she broke these men away from the restrictions of the strictly macho image which had been so characteristic of the West and had been so limiting to men.

A concept for the Dance of the Flutes.

And then again, talking about the abandoned project called Baby Ballet:

the men were reluctant to do anything babyish… Walt had trouble getting the men to work on it and to get their hearts into it… Some of them were a little afraid… There was some hint by the animation men that the storymen were maybe a little effeminate because they did beautiful delicate things and they became deeply absorbed in things like fairies. So there was a certain self-consciousness that emerged, and I think this may have been one reason why they dropped the “Baby Ballet,” one reason why they didn’t go on with the more delicate type of production. They felt more at home with something more masculine.

It is amazing how little has changed.

A beautiful pastel concept by Sylvia Holland.

Art direction involved personalities such as the ones of Robert Cormack, Al ZinnenCurtiss D. Perkins, Arthur Byram, and Bruce Bushman: almost all of them also worked on Pinocchio, but Bushman in particular also worked on lots of shorts, including How to Dance and the other How to.. series of Goofy. If you don’t know them, some of them are on Disney+ and they’re absolutely hilarious.

Background painting was in the hands of the already mentioned Ethel Kulsar, Nino Carbe, and John Hench, considered by Walt Disney himself one of the most talented artists at the studio, and who also worked with Salvador Dalí (like for real) on an animated short called Destino, that only saw the light in 2003. He was a hectic artist, who later moved to the Walt Disney Imagineering studios for live action movies and did fun stuff like the giant squid in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for which he won an Oscar in 1954.

Animation was carried out by Art Babbitt, father of Goofy and animation director for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (we owe him the elegant animations for the Evil Queen), Pinocchio, and Dumbo. Alongside him, Les Clark, who had joined Disney back in 1927 and would retire in 1975, making him the longest continuously employed member of Walt Disney Productions. He had assisted in the animation of Steamboat Willie, which I guess makes him the midwife for Mickey Mouse, and his debut as a chief animator came with the beloved and revolutionary Silly Symphony The Skeleton Dance 1927, one of the pieces that was most influential for Fantasia.
Alongside them, Don Lusk, who had also worked on Ferdinand the Bull in 1938, Cy Young, a a Chinese-American who would later become special effects animator, and Robert Stokes, who had worked on my favourite Silly Symphony, The Old Mill.

Choreography was also a big part of this work, especially the sequences featuring a dance in the strictest sense such as the Russian and the Chinese dance, hence Disney hired choreographer Jules Engel to supervise these aspects. Engels was a jack of all trades: filmmaker, painter, sculptor, graphic artist, set designer, animator, film director, and teacher. He would later found the experimental animation program at the California Institute of the Arts, in 1969, and his work is extremely impactful in the history of animation. One of his more important contributions was the decision to put an emphasis on the contrast between the dark background and the bright figures of the dancers, which brought the studio away from naturalism, at least accordingly to Patricia Ward Biederman in her article on the Los Angeles Times, which I encourage you to read.

3. The Nutcracker Piece by Piece (1)

3.2. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy: the ballet

In the original ballet, the character appears during the second number in Act II, when Clara and the Nutcracker (revealed to be a Prince) are in the enchanted Land of Sweets, ruled ad interim by the Fairy herself while they wait for the Prince’s return. Her main number is, however, near the end: a Pas de Deux after the Waltz of Flowers, in which the fairy and her chevalier conclude the celebrations from all around the world, the Prince takes back his throne and the fairy can finally go on vacation. In the Nutcracker Suite, Tchaikovsky places is as the second piece, after the overture. It’s still one of the most famous pieces of the whole suite. Notably enough, there’s no fairy in the original tale by Hoffmann: it’s all rats and kings and queens and people roaming around.

Musically, the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was one of the earliest uses of the celesta, also called a bell-piano, an instrument Tchaikovsky had already experimented in a symphonic ballad based on Adam Mickiewicz‘s poem The Voyevoda. It was a fairly recent musical instrument, invented in 1886 in Paris by a harmonium builder called Auguste Mustel, and would also be used by composers like Gustav Mahler and Gustav Holst, though is greatest fortune is with jazz music. I am no music expert, as I keep saying, but you can read about it here.

The inside of a Celesta (confused credits as Wikimedia wants them: By Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH – Schiedmayer Celesta GmbH, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The first rendition of the ballet at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg, in 1892, saw Italian prima ballerina Antonietta Dell’Era performing in the role of the fairy and she allegedly was the only thing people and critics liked about the whole thing (although she was too fat for one of the critics whom, I’m sure, was an example of athleticism and fit, and could dance one hell of an en-pointe). When choreographer Alexander Gorsky tried a new version in 1919, she eliminated the fairy altogether and the musical piece was given to Clara and her prince (luckily enough not played by children anymore back then). She was then played by Gisella Caccialanza in the December 1944 rendition by the San Francisco Ballet, staged by Willam Christensen. It was probably the first edition to have the success we recognize it today, though it wasn’t until the performance of 1954 by George Balanchine with the New York City Ballet, featuring Maria Tallchief in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, that the work stop being considered just another Christmas extravaganza. It is argued that its popularity also came from Fantasia.

A publicity portrait of Gisella Caccialanza

So, the Sugar Plum Fairy is the temporary queen in the Land of Sweets. Before you start wondering, and especially before you feel silly about it, don’t worry: I had no idea either that the sugar plum was a thing: I had to google it. It’s basically a sugar drop, like a confetto, and that’s why in Italian this character is sometimes referred to as “la fata confetto”. It firstly appears in a British cookbook written by Sir Hugh Plat around 1600, called Delightes for Ladies (because everyone knows that real men do not like sweets, right?). The book was later edited into something called A Collection of Medieval and Renaissance Cookbooks by Duke Cariadoc of the Bow and Duchess Diana Alena. The association of such sweets, that do not have anything to do with plums, mostly comes from the Nutcracker and from Clement C. Moore‘s poem A Visit from St. Nicholas from 1823 (though there’s some author controversy around the pome and someone credits it to Henry Livingston).

3.2. Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy: Fantasia

In this first piece, we see nature awakening: it seems to be the end of summer, the beginning of Autumn, and the whole piece will accompany us in the transition to Winter, with the grand finale of the snowflakes. Particularly, we see small fairies awakening from their flowerbeds and starting to sprinkle around drops of dew.

Another concept by Bianca Majolie for the fairies.

We see different kinds of fairies, within this segment: starting with a circle of dancing lights (fairy lanterns), a blue creature sets off and starts sprinkling flowers, followed by a purple one which dances of what will be the mushrooms in the Chinese dance. we see green and purple little things flying on the quiet water of the pond, in the way a dragonfly would, and then the iconic blue-greenish fairy sprinkling a dandelion until it sprinklers like a jewel, one of the most beautiful sequences alongside the spiderweb one. The glistening drops and tuned to the sound of the bell-piano. Dragonflies are not the only insects used as inspiration for the fairies flight: aside from the obvious butterflies, whose movements we see very little of, the way a pink fairy digs inside a bell flower, to better do her job, is a direct hint to what a bumblebee does, and probably inspired by all the reasoning artists were doing around a Flight of the Bumblebee sequence that will never be included. It is fair to say that fairies themselves are very little characterized, individually speaking, whereas a great deal of thought is given to the flowers, an attention will probably only see in Alice’s garden sequence.

But what’s this association of fairies with flowers and where does it come from?

One of the scenes in the sequence: the attention put into the representation of flowers is astonishing.

Disney’s Fantasia arrived right in the middle of a historical period in which people were highly fascinated with fairies.
The symbol of this fascination, and probably the final transition of faeries from obscure and sinister tricksters to creatures belonging in a nursery, is the so-called Cottingley Fairies, “photographed” by Elsie Wright (16 years old) and Frances Griffiths (aged 9) in the quaint village of Cottingley. The two cousins pulled off quite an elaborate hoax when, between 1917 and 1920, they took a series of five pictures featuring them with apparitions of dancing flower fairies. The event gained quite a reputation thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who used them to illustrate an article for The Strand Magazine in Christmas 1920. It wasn’t until 1983 that the two girls confessed they had fabricated the fairies you see with them in the pictures, by adapting an illustration of dancing girls by Claude Arthur Shepperson, included in the children’s volume Princess Mary’s Gift Book – and cutting them out of cardboard.

The illustration by Claude Arthur Shepperson which was inspiration for the Cottingley Fairies…


…and the third picture of the hoax series.

When they were given butterfly wings they were reduced to almost the status of insects, and in the sheltered days of the early twentieth century every care was taken to render them unalarming.’
– K. M. Briggs, The Fairies in Tradition and Literature (2002)

If you compare Henry Fuseli and William Blake‘s depiction of fairies, they’re hardly nursery material: the fairies we’re looking for are in the works of Richard Dadd, for instance, a Victorian artist enamoured with the fantastic and the exotic, who gave us incredible illustrations for stuff like The Book of British Ballads (1842) and his masterpiece is, without any doubt, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, which he worked on between 1855 and 1864 while hospitalized for an alleged mental illness at the “high security” Broadmoor Hospital. It’s an intricate painting, with lots of character, and the author lately wrote a long poem, Elimination of a Picture & its Subject—called The Fellers’ Master Stroke, in which he gave each character a name and a purpose: we then meet an Indian boy, reminiscent of Midsummer Night’s Dream, King and Queen, the whole court.
The painting inspired Freddie Mercury to write the homonymous song for the “Black Side” of Queen II and there should also be an essay by Neil Gaiman, here (behind a paywall worth paying for).

Richard Dadd’s famous painting The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.

Another artist worth mentioning when it comes to painting fairies is, without any doubt, Kate Greenaway, who was largely inspirational for other artists in the late XIX Century and the early 1900s. She had studied at South Kensington School of Art, at the Royal Female School of Art, and at the Slade School of Fine Art, and established her reputation both as a writer and an artist in 1879, when Edmund Evans printed her novel Under the Window, gently illustrated in a style that deeply resonated with the taste of the time. Her most prominent fairy work is to be traced back in 1868, when she sold a set of fairy watercolours to W. J. Loftie, publisher of People’s Magazine back at the time. One of the most significant illustrations of the series is The Elf Ring, where you can see fairies starting to look a lot like what we’ll see in Fantasia.

Kate Greenway’s Elf Ring.

Greenaway was the main influence for another English artist, Cicely Mary Barker, born a few years before Kate died. She’s probably one of the most famous illustrators, when it comes to fairies and flowers, and was prompted to work on the subject by The Coming of the Fairies (the article by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle quoting the Cottingley pictures), by the work of Alice B. Woodward and by J.M. Barrie‘s Peter Pan, illustrated by Arthur Rackham. In 1918 she published some cards of Elves and Fairies, followed in 1923 by a book called Flower Fairies of the Spring. Summer followed in 1925, Autumn in 1926 and in 1927 she skipped Winter in favour of The Book of the Flower Fairies. You surely know her work: chances are that, when I say “flower fairy”, the picture you have in mind is one of hers.
Compared to her inspiration, however, they’re a little too well-defined and well-dressed to be of interest to us.

Some fairies by Cicely Mary Barker.

In order to get something a little closed to what we’re looking for, we have to look into the illustrators for Peter Pan, particularly Arthur Rackham and Alice B. Woodward.
Rackham is one of the most influential illustrators of all times: he worked on stuff like the Brother Grimm’s Fairy Tales, alongside Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, both important for the subject at hand, and his style is uniquely characteristic, with watercolours and India ink. And it’s precisely within the illustrations for Shakespeare’s fairy-work that we find another fairy ring and creatures that are much closer to the kind of fairies we’re looking for (see this one, for example).

“Come, now a roundel.”

The same kind of creatures feature in his illustrations to The Ingoldsby Legends, a collection of legends and poetry written by English clergyman Richard Harris Barham and signed under the pseudonym of Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor. Illustrations to this work were created in 1898, revised in 1907 and published in 1908.

One of Rackham’s illustrations to the Ingoldsby Legens, particularly to the story of Sir Rupert the Fearless.

His most influential work, however, are his illustrations of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (1906), which redefined the imagination of a whole generation. Take a look for instance at There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun, The fairies have their tiffs with the birds, The Serpentine is a lovely lake, …they stand quite still pretending to be flowers, When they think you are not looking, They all tickled him on the shoulder and Fairies never say, -We feel happy.

“The fairies have their tiffs with the Birds”

Some significant work is also in Undine, but we’ll have to talk about it when we get to the Arab Dance and the fishes. I originally wanted to do one single long post about the Nutcracker, but I’m starting to suspect it’s going to be in another post.

Another illustrator I adore, whose style is similar to Arthur Rackham, is Warwick Goble and he was also influential in shaping our modern imaginary around fairies and flower fairies. Though he specialized in the exotic, particularly Japanese and Indian themes, he also produced illustrations for The Fairy Book, and The Book of Fairy Poetry. Below you find one example, but you might also want to check out the fairies singing a lullaby around a cradle (how far we have come from those times when fairies would steal your baby and so long), this one, this black and white fairy on a flower, this fairy balancing on a dragonfly, this one dropping a coin in a shoe, this sailing one, and this famous Puck.
Maybe we’ll also get a chance to talk about underwater charm.

An illustration by Warwick Goble to the Fairy Poetry Book.

A second very influential illustrator to Barrie’s work, as I was saying, was Alice B. Woodward, who illustrated both children’s book and scientific publications (and in the Victorian Era the difference was slim, sometimes). Her father was the Keeper of Geology at the Natural History Museum in London and she studied at the South Kensington School of Art, and later at the Westminster School of Art, before moving in Paris to attend the Académie Julian. She also studied privately with Joseph Pennell (an American mostly known for her anti-Semitic travel book The Jew at Home: Impressions of a Summer and Autumn Spent with Him which is absolutely appalling) and Maurice Greiffenhagen, who granted her a first commissions to illustrate children’s books for J.M. Dent and Macmillan and Company. She illustrated Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and creating 28 coloured plates for a book called The Peter Pan Picture Book, written by Daniel O’Connor. She also did some dinosaurs but, who knows, we’ll see if I’ll ever get to write about the Rite of Spring in Fantasia.

An illustration by Alice Woodward

Other significant works of art that might have inspired Disney’s artists in shaping the fairies should also include John Anster Fitzgerald, who was so much into fairies to be nicknamed “Fairy Fitzgerald”, though you should be warned that lot of his work is dark and haunting and includes references to drug abuse. As such, works like Dreams shouldn’t be taken too literally. You should also have a look at The Fairy Bower, Fairy Passage, Fairies in a Bird’s Nest, Fairy Banquet and The Fairy’s Barque. The guy was not well.

The Fairy Bower by John Anster Fitzgerald. There’s an opium metaphor, somewhere.

‘The recognition of their existence will jolt the material twentieth-century mind out of its heavy ruts in the mud, and will make it admit that there is a glamour and mystery to life.’
– A.C. Doyle, The Coming of the Fairies (London, 1997)

Another Pre-Raphaelite illustrator who worked on fairies, illustrating for instance The Fairy Ring, was Florence Harrison. She also worked on The Fairy Kites by Ethel K. Crawford in 1927 and Mopsa the Fairy by Jean Ingelow in 1932. You can read about her life here, thanks to book collector Mary Jacobs and her research.

This is probably the most famous illustration by Florence Harrison.

Another prominent non-British illustrator I feel I have to mention is Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, an Australian artist who specialized in fairies.

‘Fairy Islands’ from the book Elves and Fairies by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite (1916)

If we talk about illustrations and fairies, however, I do not feel I can close the article without advising you to take a look at the word of Brian Froud, and the parodic Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book he did with Terry Jones in 1994. I have the honour of owning a copy – they’re not so common anymore – and it’s hilarious.

Based on the series of turn-of-the-century photos of the supposed “Cottingley Fairies”, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book is definitely not a children’s book, but rather a morbid fantasy told through journal entries about a horrid imp of a girl who makes a hobby of crushing fairies in between the pages of her dairy.

I have absolutely no clue whether any of these artists actually inspired Bianca Majolie, Sylvia Holland and Ethel Kulsar, though it’s a fair to bet on Rackham, but it’s doubtless that the flower fairies we see in Fantasia are direct children of the Victorian Era and another blow to the dark, twisted creatures generally populating folklore.

We do know about some books Disney brought back with him from Europe, however, and that were supposed to be of inspiration. One of them was Das Blumenelfchen (The Little Flower Elf), a book by Albert Sixtus who had different illustrated versions. The one brought back by Disney was illustrated by one K. Schmidt: there’s a very small picture of it in The Walt Disney Archives,



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