Fantastic art

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The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495-1505, by Hieronymus Bosch The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch High Resolution.jpg
The Garden of Earthly Delights in the Museo del Prado in Madrid, c. 1495–1505, by Hieronymus Bosch

Fantastic art is a broad and loosely defined art genre. [1] It is not restricted to a specific school of artists, geographical location or historical period. It can be characterised by subject matter – which portrays non-realistic, mystical, mythical or folkloric subjects or events – and style, which is representational and naturalistic, rather than abstract – or in the case of magazine illustrations and similar, in the style of graphic novel art such as manga.


Fantasy has been an integral part of art since its beginnings, [2] but has been particularly important in mannerism, magic realist painting, romantic art, symbolism, surrealism and lowbrow. In French, the genre is called le fantastique, in English it is sometimes referred to as visionary art, grotesque art or mannerist art. It has had a deep and circular interaction with fantasy literature.

The subject matter of fantastic art may resemble the product of hallucinations, and Fantastic artist Richard Dadd spent much of his life in mental institutions. Salvador Dalí famously said: "the only difference between me and a madman is that I am not mad". [3] Some recent fantastic art draws on the artist's experience, or purported experience, of hallucinogenic drugs.

The term fantasy art is closely related, and is applied primarily to recent art (typically 20th century on wards) inspired by, or illustrating fantasy literature.

Fantastic art has traditionally been largely confined to painting and illustration, but since the 1970s has increasingly been found also in photography. Fantastic art explores fantasy, imagination, the dream state, the grotesque, visions and the uncanny, [2] as well as so-called "Goth" and "Dark" art.

Genres which may also be considered as fantastic art include the Weltlandschaften or world landscapes of the Northern Renaissance, Symbolism of the Victorian era, Pre-Raphaelites, the Golden Age of Illustration, [4] and Surrealism. Works based on classical mythology, which have been a staple of European art from the Renaissance period, also arguably meet the definition of fantastic art, as art based on modern mythology such as J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth mythos unquestionably does. Religious art also depicts supernatural or miraculous subjects in a naturalistic way, but is not generally regarded as fantastic art.

Historic artists and fine artists

Many artists have produced works which fit the definition of fantastic art. Some, such as Nicholas Roerich, worked almost exclusively in the genre, others such as Hieronymus Bosch, who has been described as the first "fantastic" artist in the Western tradition, [2] produced works both with and without fantastic elements, and for artists such as Francisco de Goya, fantastic works were only a small part of their output. Others again such as René Magritte are usually classed as Surrealists but use fantastic elements in their work. It is therefore impossible to give an exhaustive list of fantastic artists, but a selection of major and influential figures is listed below. [1] [5]

Illustration for The boy and the trolls by John Bauer, 1915 God kvall, farbror! Halsade pojken.jpg
Illustration for The boy and the trolls by John Bauer, 1915

16–18th centuries

19th century

20th century

Twentieth century

The rise of fantasy and science fiction "pulp" magazines demanded artwork to illustrate stories and (via cover art) to promote sales. This led to a movement of science fiction and fantasy artists prior to and during the Great Depression, as anthologised by Vincent Di Fate, himself a prolific SF and space artist. [6]

In the United States in the 1930s, a group of Wisconsin artists inspired by the Surrealist movement of Europe created their own brand of fantastic art. They included Madison, Wisconsin-based artists Marshall Glasier, Dudley Huppler and John Wilde; Karl Priebe of Milwaukee and Gertrude Abercrombie of Chicago. Their art combined macabre humor, mystery and irony [7] which was in direct and pointed contradiction to the American Regionalism then in vogue.[ citation needed ]

In postwar Chicago, the art movement Chicago Imagism produced many fantastic and grotesque paintings, which were little noted because they did not conform to New York abstract art fashions of the time. Major imagists include Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Ed Paschke, and Karl Wirsum. [8]

After 1970, modern western fantasy is influenced by illustrations from Conan the Barbarian and The Lord of the Rings , [9] as well as popular works of SF and fantasy like the role-playing game Advanced Dungeons & Dragons or the French Heavy Metal magazine.

Contemporary and mid-century artists

Gustave Dore's fantastic illustration of Orlando Furioso: defeating a sea monster Orlando Furioso 27.jpg
Gustave Doré's fantastic illustration of Orlando Furioso : defeating a sea monster

Non-European art

Non-European art may contain fantastic elements, although it is not necessarily easy to separate them from religious elements involving supernatural beings and miraculous events.

Sculptor Bunleua Sulilat is a notable contemporary Asian Fantastic artist.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">René Magritte</span> Belgian painter (1898–1967)

René François Ghislain Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist known for his depictions of familiar objects in unfamiliar, unexpected contexts, which often provoked questions about the nature and boundaries of reality and representation. His imagery has influenced pop art, minimalist art, and conceptual art.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Surrealism</span> International cultural movement active from the 1920s to the 1950s

Surrealism is a cultural movement that developed in Europe in the aftermath of World War I in which artists depicted unnerving, illogical scenes and developed techniques to allow the unconscious mind to express itself. Its aim was, according to leader André Breton, to "resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality into an absolute reality, a super-reality", or surreality. It produced works of painting, writing, theatre, filmmaking, photography, and other media.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Brian Froud</span> English fantasy illustrator

Brian Froud is an English fantasy illustrator and conceptual designer. He is most widely known for his 1978 book Faeries with Alan Lee, and as the conceptual designer of the Jim Henson films The Dark Crystal (1982) and Labyrinth (1986). According to Wired, Froud is "one of the most pre-emiminent visualizers of the world of faerie and folktale".

Magic realism or magical realism is a style of literary fiction and art. It paints a realistic view of the world while also adding magical elements, often blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. Magic realism often refers to literature in particular, with magical or supernatural phenomena presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting, commonly found in novels and dramatic performances. Despite including certain magic elements, it is generally considered to be a different genre from fantasy because magical realism uses a substantial amount of realistic detail and employs magical elements to make a point about reality, while fantasy stories are often separated from reality. Magical realism is often seen as an amalgamation of real and magical elements that produces a more inclusive writing form than either literary realism or fantasy.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Visionary art</span> Art that purports to transcend the physical world

Visionary art is art that purports to transcend the physical world and portray a wider vision of awareness including spiritual or mystical themes, or is based in such experiences.

The fantastic is a subgenre of literary works characterized by the ambiguous presentation of seemingly supernatural forces.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alan Lee (illustrator)</span> Illustrator and movie conceptual designer

Alan Lee is an English book illustrator and film conceptual designer. He is best known for his artwork inspired by J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy novels, and for his work on the conceptual design of Peter Jackson's film adaptations of Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit film series.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grotesque</span> The strange or ugly in art

Since at least the 18th century, grotesque has come to be used as a general adjective for the strange, mysterious, magnificent, fantastic, hideous, ugly, incongruous, unpleasant, or disgusting, and thus is often used to describe weird shapes and distorted forms such as Halloween masks. In art, performance, and literature, however, grotesque may also refer to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as sympathetic pity.

The Vienna School of Fantastic Realism is a group of artists founded in Vienna in 1946. It includes Ernst Fuchs, Maître Leherb, Arik Brauer, Wolfgang Hutter and Anton Lehmden, all students of Professor Albert Paris Gütersloh at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts where also Zeev Kun studied in Gütersloh's class. It was Gütersloh's emphasis on the techniques of the Old Masters that gave the fantastic realist painters a grounding in realism combined with religious and esoteric symbolism. Older members of the group were Rudolf Hausner, Kurt Regschek and Fritz Janschka who emigrated to the US in 1949. Kurt Regschek, who helped to organize the early exhibitions of the group left it in 1965. Hausner, Fuchs, Hutter, Brauer and Lehmden were referred to as "The Big Five" who subsequently held successful exhibitions worldwide with international recognition from 1965 onward.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ernst Fuchs (artist)</span>

Ernst Fuchs was an Austrian painter, draftsman, printmaker, sculptor, architect, stage designer, composer, poet, and one of the founders of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism. In 1972, he acquired the derelict Otto Wagner Villa in Hütteldorf, which he restored and transformed. The villa was inaugurated as the Ernst Fuchs Museum in 1988.

A visionary, defined broadly, is one who can envision the future. For some groups, this can involve the supernatural.

Fairy painting is a genre of painting and illustration featuring fairies and fairy tale settings, often with extreme attention to detail. The genre is most closely associated with Victorian painting in the United Kingdom, but has experienced a contemporary revival. Moreover, fairy painting was also seen as escapism for Victorians.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Terri Windling</span> American writer and editor

Terri Windling is an American editor, artist, essayist, and the author of books for both children and adults. She has won nine World Fantasy Awards, the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, and the Bram Stoker Award, and her collection The Armless Maiden appeared on the short-list for the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting</span>

Dutch and Flemish Renaissance painting represents the 16th-century response to Italian Renaissance art in the Low Countries. These artists, who span from the Antwerp Mannerists and Hieronymus Bosch at the start of the 16th century to the late Northern Mannerists such as Hendrik Goltzius and Joachim Wtewael at the end, drew on both the recent innovations of Italian painting and the local traditions of the Early Netherlandish artists. Antwerp was the most important artistic centre in the region. Many artists worked for European courts, including Bosch, whose fantastic painted images left a long legacy. Jan Mabuse, Maarten van Heemskerck and Frans Floris were all instrumental in adopting Italian models and incorporating them into their own artistic language. Pieter Brueghel the Elder, with Bosch the only artist from the period to remain widely familiar, may seem atypical, but in fact his many innovations drew on the fertile artistic scene in Antwerp.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Giuseppe Arcimboldo</span> 16th-century Italian painter of the late Renaissance

Giuseppe Arcimboldo was an Italian painter best known for creating imaginative portrait heads made entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, fish and books.

<i>Le Déjeuner en fourrure</i> Sculpture by Méret Oppenheim

Object , lit. Object, known in English as Fur Breakfast or Breakfast in Fur, is a 1936 sculpture by the surrealist Méret Oppenheim, consisting of a fur-covered teacup, saucer and spoon.

Egbert Baqué is a German gallerist, author and translator.

The False Mirror (1928) is a surrealist oil painting by René Magritte that depicts a human eye framing a cloudy, blue sky. In the depiction of the eye in the painting, the clouds take the place normally occupied by the iris. The painting's original French title is Le faux miroir.

Proto-Surrealism is a term used for Surrealism avant-la-lettre. It is the study of various forms of art, literature, and other mediums that correspond to, reference, or share similarities to the 20th-century art movement known as Surrealism. This definition is considered a controversial topic, with many debating the suitability of the term surrealism to describe these bodies of work and instead opting to use the term Fantastique or Fantastic Art.

<i>Faeries</i> (book) 1978 book by Brian Froud and Alan Lee

Faeries is a book written and illustrated by English artists Brian Froud and Alan Lee. An illustrated compendium of faerie mythology, legends and folklore, the book explores the history, customs and habitat of faeries in the manner of a field guide, complete with hand annotations.


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  6. Di Fato, Vincent. Infinite Worlds: The Fantastic Visions of Science Fiction Art.
  7. Krajewski, Sara (1998). "Surreal Wisconsin: Surrealism and its Legacy of Wisconsin Art". Madison Art Center. Archived from the original on 5 December 1999. Retrieved 18 December 2020.
  8. Richard Vine, "Where the Wild Things Were", Art in America , May 1997, pp. 98–111.
  9. "The History of Fantasy Art & Fantasy Artists – The Art History Archive". Retrieved 18 December 2020.