Past Events

Fairyland, Sovereignty and Empire’s Body Politic

Research Lunch – Ariel Kline

  • 12 January 2024
  • 1:00 – 2:00 pm
  • Paul Mellon Centre

This paper takes seriously Victorian fairy paintings as political propositions. Comparing works by the Scottish artist Joseph Noel Paton (1821–1901), including The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania (1850) and Caliban (1868), it reveals that Paton was interested not only in individual monstrous figures, but also in the monstrous multiple, the double and the many. Rooted in seventeenth-century sources that describe fantastical worlds, from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream (1600) to his Tempest (1611), and from Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) to Robert Kirk’s The Secret Commonwealth (ca.1691), this paper charts how fairyland challenged notions of sovereignty in nineteenth-century Britain, which were especially contentious during the height of its expanding global empire. National unity and sovereignty were at stake in Paton’s fairy pictures, works that explore the outermost limits of sovereign power and the aesthetics of its undoing.

Image credit: Joseph Noel Paton, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, 1849-50, oil on canvas (Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh)

About the speaker

  • KLINE, Ariel, Headshot

    Ariel Kline is a PhD candidate at Princeton University with a dissertation titled, “Of Monsters and Mirrors: Art and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Britain”. She is the recipient of a Junior Fellowship at the Paul Mellon Centre (2023), during which this work on Paton’s fairy paintings was developed. Her research has appeared in British Art Studies and The Art Bulletin.