Fantasy Art Charms Collectors in the Art Market; from the Fairy Paintings and Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Canvases of the Victorian Era to Sword and Sorcery Imagery Today, Fantasy Art Is Enjoying a Revival of Collector Interest. Give Credit to "The Lord of the Rings" and "Harry Potter." (Fantasy Art)

Article excerpt

Call them the "Charmed Ones" among artists, for throughout the ages fantasy artists have earned quite a following with their invented landscapes in imagined worlds where elves and trolls, fairies and pixies, wizards, witches and dragons, dwarves and gnomes live. And, of course, hobbits. "They bring myths to life," said Brian Froud, one of today's best known fantasy artists and the co-artistic creator behind the top-selling book, Faeries and Good Faeries/Bad Faeries.

And with the release of the first of the "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings" movies, a new and growing attention to fantasy art has surfaced in the art market. Consider the recent sale at Christie's of South Kensington/London, where Pottermania heated up its British and Continental Watercolours and Drawings and Original Book Illustrations sale. Artist Cliff Wright's original front and back cover watercolors for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets sold for top dollar. "We launched the Potter works perhaps a week after the film preview," noted Saskia Riley-Smith, head of Watercolours and Book Illustrations at Christie's South Kensington. The original design for the back cover, which depicts the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry, sold for $6,700, while Wright's "Final Study of the Ford Anglia" used in the book's final cover design sold for more than $20,000.

And interest in art relating to Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is also booming. "The interest in Tolkien is phenomenal," said art dealer Suhana Gibson, owner of Chalk Farm Gallery in London and Santa Fe, N.M. "Collectors absolutely adore Ted Nasmith," who is a Toronto-based artist and one of the best-known illustrators of J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series. His limited-edition prints, available from Hidden Door Editions, retail from $100 to $150.

"When I have Nasmith exhibitions in London, people queue outside the door for hours," added Gibson. "Some of them live and breathe Tolkien. One couple in England has a house named `Rivendell' and a cat named `Frodo.' At my new gallery in America, where Ted had never shown his work, he was hesitant to do so. But the show [scheduled for January and held over through February] was extremely successful." In fact, Gibson has slated two other Nasmith shows in London and Santa Fe for December 2002, together with the works of fellow "LOTR" (that's short-hand for Lord of the Rings) artist John Howe.

If today's market is any indication, fantasy art by both contemporary and period artists promises to continue enchanting collectors.

The Appeal of Fantasy Art

Even before the release of these two blockbuster films, dealers say fantasy art was on the rise. "There's been a growing interest in fantasy illustration for at least 10 years now," observed Jo Ann Reisler, an antiquarian books, prints and illustrations dealer in Vienna, Va. Reisler sells period fantasy illustrations in pen and ink or watercolor, such as Ida Outhwaite's "Elves and Fairies" ($37,500), produced for a book issued by Lothian Book Publishing in 1916.

Keith Savory of the U.K.-based art publisher Artists UK, which specializes in fantasy and science fiction themes and has published a limited-edition print of Lee's "Rivendell" among many other Romantic fantasy works, concurred. "I agree fully with the idea that there is a renewed interest in fairy, Celtic and related areas," said Savory. "I think this is due to the kids from the 1960s and '70s growing up and the growth of the `New Age' market with all its alternative therapies that are based on exactly the same traditions that this area of art comes from. Fairies, devas, gods, nature spirits, etc., are all the same really--various descriptions of the mechanics of nature in various [cultural] traditions."

Malcolm Sanders, president of London's MGL (Meiklejohn Graphics Licensing), which has been producing and licensing fantasy imagery for more than 10 years, said that the visionary aspects are a big draw. …