Dancing Fairies

August Malmström1866

Nationalmuseum Sweden

Nationalmuseum Sweden
Stockholm, Sweden

The moon illuminates a still landscape through which a river flows sedately. Trees appear as dark silhouettes against the sky. Hand-in-hand, the elves sweep like a wispy mist through the landscape, their movements like a ring dance. One elf kisses the surface of the water or is reflected in it. Like the others, she has long flowing hair and is wearing a garland.

As a contemporary critic pointed out, you can either see the morning mist over the landscape as dancing elves, or you can see the dancing elves as a morning mist. If you choose to focus in on the morning mist, the elves can be explained as the movement of the mist. The painting can then be described as a romantic landscape, where nature is imbued with a spirit of its own. If instead, you see the dancing elves as the key motif, the painting can be described as a depiction of the fairytale world. According to Swedish folklore, elves live in nature and are often seen dancing around hills, burial mounds, mountains and forests. People were warned to watch out for elves, as they made people ill.

August Malmström’s Dancing Fairies became a widely recognised image through versions and reproductions in magazines and illustrations.


  • Title: Dancing Fairies
  • Creator: August Malmström
  • Creator Lifespan: 1829/1901
  • Creator Nationality: Swedish
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Stockholm
  • Creator Birth Place: Västra Ny socken, Östergötland
  • Date Created: 1866
  • Title in Swedish: Älvalek
  • Signature: A Malmström 1866
  • Physical Dimensions: w1490 x h900 cm (without frame)
  • Artist Information: Malmström came from a poor rural background in the province of Östergötland. He was trained as a wood carver by his father, and showed artistic talent at an early age. His father made considerable sacrifices to pay for his son’s move to Stockholm, where he was admitted to the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1849. On successfully completing his studies, Malmström left the Academy in 1856 to go to Düsseldorf. After two visits to Italy and election as a member of the Stockholm Academy, Malmström returned to Sweden in 1864. In 1867 he was appointed professor, having presented Dancing Fairies at the major Scandinavian exhibition the year before. As well as illustrating numerous works of literature, including Esaias Tegnér’s ancient Norse-inspired Frithiof’s Saga, Malmström now turned to a new, idyllic type of subject, painting a series of children, of which the often reproduced Coin for Opening the Gate (Grindslanten) was to be the best known. In the later art of his career, commissions for illustrations assumed growing importance.
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Nationalmuseum, Nationalmuseum
  • Medium: Oil on canvas

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