The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke
The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke is a Richard Dadd painting. It was commissioned by George Henry Haydon, who was head steward at Bethlem Royal Hospital at the time. He was impressed by Dadd's artistic efforts and asked for a fairy painting of his own. Dadd worked on the painting for nine years, paying microscopic attention to detail and using a layering technique to produce 3D-like results. Although it is generally regarded as his most important work, Dadd himself considered the painting to be unfinished (the background of the lower left corner is only sketched in), and as such added the suffix of "Quasi" to its title.
In order to give context to his work, Dadd subsequently wrote a long poem by the name of Elimination of a Picture & its Subject—called The Fellers' Master Stroke in which each of the characters appearing in the picture is given a name and purpose—including myriad references to old English folklore and Shakespeare—in an apparent attempt to show that the painting's unique composition was not merely a product of random, wild inspiration.
The painting is in the Tate Britain collection. It was presented to the Tate by the war poet Siegfried Sassoon in memory of his friend and fellow officer Julian Dadd, a great-nephew of the artist, and of his two brothers who gave their lives in the First World War.
The Queen song "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" from the band's second album was born of Freddie Mercury's appreciation of the work; it makes direct reference to the painting's characters as detailed in Dadd's poem.
Mercury was inspired to write "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" after seeing Richard Dadd's painting The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke. For the intricately arranged studio recording, Mercury played harpsichord as well as piano, and Roy Thomas Baker played the castanets. Roger Taylor called this song Queen's "biggest stereo experiment", referring to the intricate use of panning in the mix.
The song, like most of the songs on the album, features medieval fantasy-based lyrics, and makes direct reference to the painting's characters as detailed in Dadd's poem, such as Queen Mab, Waggoner Will, the Tatterdemalion, and others.
Apparently whenever Queen had spare time, Mercury would drag them to the London's Tate Gallery, where the painting was, and still is today.
The complex arrangements are based around a backing track of piano, bass guitar and drums, but also included harpsichord, multiple vocal overdubs and overdubbed guitar parts. The lyrics follow the claustrophobic atmosphere of the painting, and each of the scenes are described. The use of the word "Quaere" has no reference to Mercury's sexuality, according to Taylor. The band never performed this song live.
In Other Works
The painting, the art of the insane, and Dadd are referenced in the novel Mortal Love, by Elizabeth Hand.
The painting appears in Alex Bledsoe's Tufa novels.
- MacGregor, John. (1989). The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04071-0
- Tate online: Richard Dadd
- PopSubCulture(dot)Com Biography Project
- Tate online: Richard Dadd's "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke"
- Google Art Project: "The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke"
- Tate online: Sigmar Polke on Richard Dadd
- Excerpts of the poem in the context of Shakespeare from the English Department of Emory University
- s:Elimination of a picture and its subject - called the feller's master stroke printed text