Edward Robert Hughes' Midsummer Eve is a mythic and luminescent work of imagination and mystery, deftly capturing the spirit of Victorian fairy tales at a time when they were surging in popularity.
Hughes, whose uncle was the Pre-Raphaelite artist Arthur Hughes, has come to be associated closely with the movement. Primarily due to the commercial reception of a posthumous retrospective exhibition, Hughes consequently became linked with both the Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements, and since this categorisation his creative output has garnered little attention. Widely exhibited and respected in his day, Hughes forged a successful career creating figurative reproductions of the likenesses of society figures, experimented with the popular art of watercolor painting, and specialized in well-wrought, bombastic canvases featuring mythical, legendary, and literary themes and figures. Seen during his lifetime as an academic innovator, Hughes was a leading figure of the Royal Society of Painters in Water Colours, allocating him the use of the initials RWS after his name. At the end of the nineteenth century Hughes reputation for energetic and passionate color ranges and technical mastery was waning in favour of the emerging styles and themes of European Modernism.
Greatly influenced by Pre-Raphaelitism and Aestheticism, Midsummer Eve is one of Hughes best-known works, suffused with the thematic idiosyncrasies of John William Waterhouse, yet with a more electric and pulsating palette. Clearly an ambitious creative mind, Hughes' imagined reproduction of a mythical woman surrounded by fairies that light her from below is an elusive work that sits at the intersection between a number of seismic shifts in Victorian visual culture. At the intersection of the Arts and Crafts movement, Hughes' work has yet to receive the attention of a sufficient study or retrospective. An unfortunate fate for an artist who so aptly reflected the tastes of Victoriana.
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