The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

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Richard Dadd. Fairy Fellers' Master-Stroke. 1855–64. Oil on canvas. 54 x 39.5 cm. Tate Gallery, London.

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke is a painting by English artist Richard Dadd. 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.

Queen song[edit]

"The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke"
Song by Queen from the album Queen II
Released 8 March 1974
Recorded August 1973 at Trident Studios, London
Genre Progressive rock, art rock
Length 2:40
Label EMI (UK), Parlophone (Europe), Elektra (US)
Writer Freddie Mercury
Producer Roy Thomas Baker
Queen II track listing
"Ogre Battle"
(Track 6)
"The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke"
(Track 8)

"The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke" is a song by British rock band Queen. The song comes from their second album Queen II. The song 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 viewing 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 London's Tate Gallery, where the painting was (and remains) displayed.

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 is described. It was thought that the band never performed this song live, but it was released on the Queen live CD/LP Live at the Rainbow '74.[1]


In Other Works[edit]

Terry Pratchett's novel The Wee Free Men contains a scene inspired by the painting.

The painting, the art of the insane, and Dadd are mentioned in the novel, Mortal Love, by Elizabeth Hand.

The work is a central plot element in the novel The Witches of Chiswick by Robert Rankin.

Neil Gaiman wrote a tribute to the painting for Intelligent Life (July/August 2013)[2]

The painting appears in Alex Bledsoe's Tufa novels.

The painting is an attributed plot element in Mike Shevdon's The Road to Bedlam, Book II of his The Courts of the Feyre series.

Former Gorky's Zygotic Mynci singer Euros Childs included an instrumental song titled 'The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke' on his 2009 solo album, Son of Euro Child.

Mark Chadbourn's "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke", about a contemporary young man looking for meanings in the painting, won the British Fantasy Award for best short story in 2003.



External links[edit]