Harris Museum Acquires 19th Century Puck Painting

The Harris Museum & Art Gallery in Preston has acquired a 19th Century “Puck” Painting with Art Fund help.

Puck by Victorian artist Richard Dadd is a mysterious painting with a fascinating back story. On loan to the Harris since June 2009, the popular work was in danger of being sold by its owners, the Finnis Scott Foundation. The Harris has now successfully raised all the money required to buy it for its permament collections.

The work depicts Puck, a central character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, sitting on a toadstool while smaller fairy figures dance around him in moonlight. Signed and dated 1841, the painting is circular in shape set in an ornate gilt frame.

Puck is a key example of Victorian fairy painting, an artistic trend which flourished between the 1840s – 1870s. Richard Dadd is the most famous of the fairy painters. However his career was curtailed when he began suffering from mental illness.

Puck was painted two years before Dadd’s descent into mental illness. The painting’s imagery has dark undertones, possibly alluding to the unrest that was to affect the artist’s life.
In 1843 Richard Dadd murdered his father after which he was incarcerated for life. He was held in ‘Bedlam’ asylum and later in Broadmoor, until his death in 1886.

A companion piece to Puck, called Titania Sleeping, is in the Louvre, Paris, and a later painting by Dadd, The Fairy Feller’s Masterstroke, is in the Tate collection, London. Although Dadd is synonymous with the fairy painting genre, because of his illness, he only completed around twelve oil paintings on the subject, making Puck a very work.

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