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Set at twilight in a dark wood this scene is less innocent than it first appears. While the large fairies are the conventionally beautiful and aristocratic figures of medieval romance, their smaller attendants are the grotesque creatures more often associated with folklore. Other human children, identifiable by their size, wear slender chains around their ankles. One child in particular looks back at the human world he is leaving behind. A recent interpretation of the picture has suggested the theme of child abduction and reasoned that Paton was simultaneously enthralling his audience and increasing their anxiety about an issue which was all too common in Victorian society. Whether or not this was Paton's intention, the picture is a remarkable tour de force. All is rendered with a breathtaking, meticulous attention to detail, the woodland scene bursting with imaginary fairies, knights in armour, fantastic creatures and lush flora and fauna. There are even standing stones on a hill in the distance, making a link with ancient Celtic beliefs in which the artist was so interested. Paton has thus brought together antiquarianism, folklore and chivalry in a typically mid-Victorian way.
Paton studied at the Royal Academy Schools with John Everett Millais but left London four years before the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formally founded. However, his art has many affinities with the group, notably his intense observation of nature, a microscopic attention to detail and rich, brilliant colours.
oil on canvas
H 90.5 x W 146.7 cm