Robert Huskisson was a short-lived painter who is now best-known for his fairy subjects, a genre which enjoyed a great vogue in the early Victorian period. He was born Robert Locking Huskinson (sic) at Langar, Nottinghamshire, the son of Henry Huskinson, a local portrait painter; but by 1839, when he was twenty, he had moved to London and changed his name to Huskisson, under which he exhibited. He showed at the Royal Academy 1838-1854, as well as supporting the British Institution and the Society of British Artists.
Huskisson belonged to the circle of S.C. Hall, the prolific author and editor of the Art Journal. Hall owned two of his pictures, and Huskisson, together with Noel Paton, William Frost, Clarkson Stanfield, Thomas Creswick and others, contributed illustrations to Mrs Hall's Midsummer Eve: A Fairy Tale of Love (1848). He was well known as a copyist and carried out work of this kind for the great collector Lord Northwick (1769-1859), visiting his country seat, Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, where he painted a view of the Picture Gallery (Yale Center for British Art, New Haven). W.P. Frith mentions Huskisson in his reminicences, writing that although he 'had painted some original pictures of considerable merit', he was 'a very common man, entirely uneducated. I doubt if he could read or write. The very tone of his voice was dreadful'.
The present picture is a characteristic example. Like other works by Huskisson, it is based on A Midsummer Night's Dream, by far the most important literary source for fairy paintings both before and during the Victorian period, while stylistically it can be related to the work of William Etty, William Frost, Noel Paton and Richard Dadd, all of whom made significant contributions to the fairy painting tradition.
Huskisson exhibited a picture of this title at the Royal Academy in 1854, the last time his work appeared on the institution's walls. It was described as follows in the Art Journal:
This is the fulfillment of Titania's promise to her beloved Bottom, although he declared his preferenec for a handful of dried peas to the sweet nuts-
'I have a venturous fairy that shall seek
The squirrel's hoard, and fetch thee new nuts.'
We see here, accordingly, the fairy's coachmaker very much astounded at the dispersion of his hoard, which take wings to themselves and fly away. The idea is carried out with all the poetic taste with which this artist qualifies his works. The spirit of the picture coincides with that of the verse; and the description of the riotous mirth of the elves at the success of their plundering expedition is most ingenious.
Our picture's high degree of finish suggests that it may be the 1854 exhibit, although there are at least three other versions of what was evidently a very popular composition. One (oil on board, 14½ x 18 in.), formerly in the collection of Dr Jerrold Northrop Moore, is illustrated in Jeremy Maas's book Victorian Painters, 1969, p 153, and was sold at Sotheby's Belgravia on 20 November 1973, lot 59. The second (oil on board, 13½ x 16¼ in.) appeared at Christie's London on 19 May 1978, lot 232, and again at Sotheby's New York on 29 February 1984, lot 234. The third (oil on canvas, 25¾ x 30½ in.) was sold by Sotheby's in London on 9 June 1993, lot 191. It came from the collection of the late Humphrey Brooke, who became Secretary to the Royal Academy in 1952 and held the post for many years.