Fantasy paintings (also referred to as Fantastic Art) are characterised by their realistic depiction of non-real subject matter including fictional characters, creatures, and lands, often derived from literature (both classic and contemporary) as well as ancient folklore and mythology. The huge popularity of fantasy artwork is due in large part to the genre being inextricably linked to its textual and pop cultural sources such as fantasy novels, graphic novels, manga, and films. A number of our emerging artists have also taken inspiration from fantastical subject matter, evidenced by the following selection of fantasy paintings for sale here on Saatchi Art. Explore today!
Fantasy paintings are informed by purely imagined characters, events, objects, and locales within mythology, folklore, and fantasy fiction both old and contemporary. Though much fantasy artwork is created by book and magazine illustrators within a commercial publishing context, however the popularity of fantasy fiction has created a high demand among enthusiasts of the genre for artworks with fantastical themes. Much of today’s fantasy art has its origins in myth. However, what is considered “fantasy” and “myth” is culturally and historically relative. Myths considered fantastical by technologically advanced societies today were once stories created and believed by those of earlier eras, as they provided “answers” for yet unanswered questions. For example, the mystery of the world’s origins gave rise to creation tales, fleeting sightings of animals led to the belief in fantastical beasts (e.g. sea lions mistaken for mermaids, antelopes mistaken for unicorns), and unfortunate events like sickness and natural disasters were blamed on witches, wizards, vampires, elves, etc. In time, these stories came to be appreciated for their literary and entertainment value, and fantasy art admired for its visual beauty.
The artist considered by many to be among the earliest fantasy painters is Hieronymous Bosch. Although his “Garden of Earthly Delights” (1503-1504) triptych is also considered a religious work as its theme is taken from Biblical stories, the fantastical creatures and objects depicted appear purely based on the artists’ imagination. During the classical revival of the Italian Renaissance, scenes from Greek Mythology were often painted by Sandro Botticelli, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo. European mythology was also a source of inspiration for fantasy art, especially in Victorian England when fairy lore aroused popular imagination. According to some, fairies provided a form of escapism from the period’s conservative Christian social codes and “anti-pagan” stance. “Fairyland” art became a distinct fantasy painting genre, and its artists include Richard Doyle, John Anster Fitzgerald, Frances Danby, and Eleanor Fortesque-Brickdale. Arthurian legend became popular subject matter among the Pre-raphaelites of the mid 19th century such as John William Waterhouse, James Archer, and Dante Rossetti. Popular contemporary fantasy artists include husband and wife team Julie Bell and Boris Vallejo, Brian Froud, Michael Whelan, and Todd Lockwood.
Fantasy paintings are characterized by their realistic treatment of the imagined subject matter. Characters, objects, creatures, buildings, and botanic elements are often rendered in fine detail, in order to create a vivid, multisensorial depiction of the fantastical. Artists also distinguish between low fantasy and high fantasy works. These terms are in no way value judgements on the works, but are simply descriptive of two categories within the fantasy genre: 1) low fantasy refers to stories/artwork about fantastical elements that exist within our everyday world while 2) high fantasy refers to works set in a completely imagined environment ungoverned by “earthly” scientific laws.