John Anster (Fairy) Fitzgerald – Waking Dreams

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Pencil and watercolour, highlighted with white on paper. Signed in pencil, J.A.Fitzgerald, (bottom left corner). Framed and glazed with title written on mount. Painted at The Langham Sketching Club, c1850.


The board to which the watercolour was originally attached had the title “Waking Dreams” with the Langham Sketching Club written in pencil (under the mount).

The Langham Sketching Club which is now known as the ‘London Sketch Club’ was founded in 1838. Artists met every Friday evening during the winter months when each member made a two-hour sketch from one or two given subjects. The sketches were then fixed around the walls and “received much criticism”; after which supper was served and the rest of the evening devoted to talk and mutual entertainment.

Fitzgerald is mentioned in the history of the London Sketch Club by David Cuppleditch and was said to be one of the dissenters who left the Langham Club after a row about food-hot or cold was the issue, and the ‘hots’ including Fitzgerald, known as ‘Fairy’, Sir James Linton, Phil May, Cecil Aldin and others left the Club in 1898. His last wish was to die in the Savage Club. As Aaron Watson remarked, “It was a weird idea; but in his latter days he came to the club every Saturday to die and only missed his expectation by three or four days. John Anster Fitzgerald was given the extraordinary favor of a pension by the Royal Academy.

Although this work is not dated it has been said that all Fitzgerald’s fairy pictures were painted from the 1850s and 1860s, and that a small group of ‘dream’ pictures of sleeping figures date from the 1850s.

Don Grant, (research fellow, London Sketch Club) kindly emailed us an image of a painting from their archives depicting various members of The London Sketch Club from 1902. In the picture Fitzgerald (No.4) is seen happily musing over one of his sketches.

Additional information


8¼ in x 9½ in. (20.7 cm x 23.8 cm.)

Frame or Mount

18½ in x 17¾ in. (45.5 cm x 47 cm.)


Fitzgerald, John Anster (1819-1906)

John Anster Christian Fitzgerald was a Victorian fairy painter and portrait artist. 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 scenes of Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel. 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 two daughters. 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 he 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 colours, especially reds, blues, and purples. 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. His younger daughter, Florence Harriet Fitzgerald (1857-1927), was a painter and sculptor. She married landscape artist Walter Follen Bishop (1856-1936) in 1889.