Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1914-1915 and again from 1933-1946
Springville Museum of Art, Utah, August 26, 2009 - February 28, 2010
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite designs, studies and watercolours, 18 June - 14 September, 2011
Led by artists like Daniel Maclise and Richard Dadd, a rich tradition of fairy painting emerged in the early nineteenth century and provided an escapist fantasy to industrial England. Early visions can be seen in the work of William Blake as he took visual cues and inspiration from A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Shakespeare continued to provide limitless inspiration for artists in Victorian times (see lot 70 for Dicksee's interpretation of Miranda). However, Jeremy Maas notes that "as Titania and Oberon began to lose their sovereignty to more generalized forms, faeries became merged into fantasy, dissolving into personifications of night, moon and stars – typified by the highly imaginative creations of Edward Robert Hughes" (Jeremy Maas, Victorian Fairy Painting, London, 1997, p. 21).
Edward Robert Hughes was raised in pre-Raphaelite circles thanks to his uncle, artist Arthur Hughes, and through working as a studio assistant to William Holman Hunt. Their influence on his work is seen through his meticulous attention to detail and skilled technique with watercolor and gouache. Wings of the Morning takes its name from the passage in Psalms 139: 7-10, which reads: "Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, though art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold thou art there. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, And thy right hand shall hold me." As a vision of this passage, Wings of the Morning soars beyond allegory and revels in an invented world of make-believe.
Hughes explains his creative license in a letter dated February 24, 1905, to Edward William Knox, the initial owner of Wings of the Morning: "My idea in this picture is to make these creatures welcome the dawn, which is slowly creeping over a range of mountains for the most part in shadow, and only the highest peaks being touched by rosy light. The sky, however, is a mass of cirrus clouds high enough to be well coloured by this same light – so making a kind of confusion with the many fluttering birds' wings, surrounding and accompanying the huge wings of the supernatural girl flying towards the dawn. Below and beneath all this welcome gaiety & light as though fleeing from them into the darkness that lingers are the winged things of the night" (Beresford, p. 116).
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