OIL PAINTING: The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania, 1847
The Reconciliation of Oberon and Titania established Paton as one of the most distinguished fairy painters of the mid- nineteenth century, a reputation sustained by the artist's fascination with folklore and Celtic myth. The work was painted in response to the competition announced by the Commission for the Decoration of the Palace of Westminster, which invited artists to submit scenes from Shakespeare, Spenser and Milton, as well as subjects from British history. Paton selected the episode from Act IV, scene I of A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Oberon and Titania, having resolved their quarrel over the changeling, stand before the sleeping mortals in whose dreams this fairy fantasy is envisioned. The argument itself formed the subject of Paton's companion picture The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy in 1850. With these grand compositions Paton offered his contribution towards the development of romantic literary art in Britain, working in the tradition of Fuseli, Etty and Frost, with the added novelty of microscopic detail. He was awarded a 300 Pounds prize for The Reconciliation by the Commissioners and received offers for its purchase from the RSA, the Society of Arts and the Belgian King (it was bought by the RSA in 1848).
Despite the revelry, the figures in The Reconciliation are treated with a miniature grace in keeping with the nude females of Frost and Pickersgill: the addition of gauze wings and wispy drapes adds to the sense of propriety. This dramatic centrifugal composition is moreover stabilised at its centre by the classically posed Oberon and Titania, who with their white statuesque bodies draw attention away from the grotesque rampant creatures which surround the sleeping humans. An article in the Art Journal in 1895 described Paton's figures as ideal:
"The Greek feeling for form prevails, in all its abounding grace. Hence the artist gives one the idea of a Greek who has steeped himself in the pages of Edmund Spenser"
Although Paton was praised for his refined treatment, the theme of reckless abandon was not considered appropriate for the seat of government, as the Spectator confirmed:
"Art is always vagabond and lawless, because its essential laws must follow the elementary laws of human nature, and not those of custom or Parliament."