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Sunday, 2 August 2009

Exhibition - Enchanted Worlds

Enchanted Worlds: Art of Fairy Stories and Mermaid Tales is a fantastic exhibition at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, Lancashire until 5th September. When I visited I was really struck by how much they've managed to fit in, this is a treasure trove of paintings, illustrations, books, film, sculpture and puppets that cover the entwined worlds of fairy painters and fairy tales (five fairy tales are focused on in detail - Beauty and the Beast, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, The Little Mermaid, Little Red Cap and Rumpelstiltskin, the texts of the versions they've used are avalaible here as PDFs). They also have the Cottingley fairy photographs and one of the cameras used to take them (if you're not familiar with the story this is a great local site with lots of detail on the hoax, which famously convinced the creator of the world's most famous detective that fairies lived at the bottom of a garden in Yorkshire).

Enchanted Worlds is the perfect title, the images you encounter in this exhibition are truly magical. There is the beautiful Arthur Rackham Jewels from the Deep, which was completed for but never used in Undine (a novella which George Macdonald thought 'the most beautiful' of all fairy stories), fairy paintings by masters such as Richard Dadd and William Blake. Rare first editions illustrated by the likes of Rackham, Edmund Dulac and Mervyn Peake are tantalisingly laid out in glass cabinets. La belle et la bête plays on one screen and Lotte Reiniger's Hansel and Gretel on another.

This eclectic sensory journey doesn't neglect contemporary artists either, there is a chance to see Quentin Blake's illustrations for Beauty and the Beast, Jan Pieńkowski's illustrations for Hansel and Gretel, David Hockney's Rumpelstiltskin drawings and Paula Rego's disturbing Little Red Riding Hood Suite, which definitely touches on the darker side of fairy tales.

With a fantastic room of activities for children containing fairy tale dressing up clothes, a puppet theatre, puzzles and books and a packed programme of events including curator talks and children's craft activities this is a fantastical treat not to be missed. But if you're too far away to visit a small selection of the artworks, including three of the Rego paintings and Rackham's Jewels from the Deep can be seen on the exhibition's Flickr page here.

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