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As folklore plays a less prominent role in contemporary society, many fantasy paintings feature motifs or characters from film or fiction, such as Harry Potter or the stormtroopers from Star Wars. Other fantasy artists choose to work entirely from imagination. Diana Rosa Latourt is one of them. The Cuban artist, who lives in Canada, uses her distinct, contrasting colour palette to depict fantasy figures usually against jungle backdrops. Her work borders on surrealism in Flamingo Dance where a female figure dances with a flamingo. But in The Enchanted Forest, the narrative hints at a more conventional fantasy, with a man and a woman side by side in a fairy-tale landscape of luscious, colourful plants.
As long as humans have passed on stories and folklore, there has been fantasy art. English artist, John William Waterhouse, famously re-imagined Tennyson’s poem about a young woman who lived in an isolated tower near King Arthur’s castle at Camelot. In Tennyson’s telling, the young woman has been cursed, forcing her to see the outside world only via its reflection in a mirror. When she sees the reflection of a handsome knight, she cannot resist looking straight at him and as part of her curse, she is banished in a boat that drifts downstream towards Camelot. However, she is destined to die before she gets there.
Waterhouse brought this story to life in his work, The Lady of Shalott, which was celebrated for capturing the young woman’s hopeless drift towards her fate in the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In her boat are three candles – symbolising life – however two have been extinguished, showing that death is close.
While the folklore stories of King Arthur were popular among artists, these tales were not the only ones to be brought to life in fantasy paintings. The Pied Piper story has also been reinterpreted by multiple artists. According to legend, when a German village refused to pay a piper who had lured away the local rats, the stranger used his musical powers on the village children – tunefully leading them away as he had with the rats. George John Pinwell’s The Study for ‘The Pied Piper of Hamelin’ captures a mob of children entranced by the piper’s notes as they are lead away in convoy from their home.