Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom

Edwin Landseer(1848-1851)

National Gallery of Victoria

National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne, Australia

Edwin Landseer’s Scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Titania and Bottom illustrates the third act of William Shakespeare’s famous comedy. We see Titania, Queen of the Fairies, at the moment when, drugged with a love potion, she becomes enchanted with the artisan Bottom, who has been magically turned into an ass.

Text by Dr Ted Gott from 19th century painting and sculpture in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 35.


  • Title: Scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania and Bottom
  • Creator: Edwin Landseer
  • Creator Lifespan: 07 March 1802 - 01 October 1873
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: London, England
  • Date Created: (1848-1851)
  • Physical Dimensions: 82.0 x 133.0 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1932, © National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Provenance: Commissioned by Isambard Kingdom Brunel Esq. (1806–59), London, 1850 (for his Shakespeare Room); exhibited Royal Academy, London, 1851, no. 157; included in the Brunel estate sale, Christie's London, 20 April 1860, no. 223; from where purchased by Lord Robert Pelham-Clinton (1820–67), North Nottinghamshire; his collection 1860–67; collection of Adelbert Wellington Brownlow-Cust (1844–1921), 3rd Earl Brownlow, London, Belton, Lincolnshire and Ashridge House, Berkamsted, by 1873– c. 1886; exhibited Winter exhibtion of works by Landseer, Royal Academy, London, 1874, no. 236, owner Earl Brownlow; from whom acquired by Sir William Cuthbert Quilter (1841–1911), 1st Baronet, Bawdsey Manor, Suffolk; his collection until 1909; included in a Christie's sale, London, 9 July 1909; from where purchased by Henry (Heinz) Lowenfeld (d. 1931, Paris); Lowenfeld collection, London, 1931; offered for purchase by Mrs Henry Lowenfeld (widow), from whom acquired, on the advice of Randall Davies, for the Felton Bequest, 1932.
  • Additional information: The painting was commissioned from Landseer by the wealthy Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806–1859), chief engineer of Britain’s Great Western Railway and a pioneering designer of steamships travelling between England and the United States. Brunel had asked Landseer to paint this scene as one of a group of Shakespearean pictures destined for the dining room of his London home. Titania and Bottom was a popular success from the moment of its first exhibition, at London’s Royal Academy, in 1851. Writing in her diary on 8 April that year, the young Queen Victoria described the painting as ‘a gem, beautifully fairy-like and graceful’. Landseer was renowned in the Victorian era as an animal painter and it seems likely that he chose to depict the story of Titania and Bottom because it was the most animal-specific topic he could find in Shakespeare. A report in the London journal The Athenaeum in 1857 noted of Titania and Bottom: ‘This fantasia, with its flowers and elves, and its inimitable white rabbit, with its spectral eyes, will-o’-the-wisp lighted, which quite eclipses Titania … is a fairy animal picture, not a fairy picture’. When Titania and Bottom was seen by the writer Lewis Carroll in the same year, he remarked in his diary: ‘There are some wonderful points in it – the ass’s head and the white rabbit especially’. It is interesting to speculate as to whether Landseer’s imagery had any bearing upon the development of Carroll’s immortal ‘White Rabbit’ character in his Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

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