Bats and Fairies

I have commented before on the large number of women artists whose work I admire. Another fine Australian woman artist, who worked in a typically feminine style, was Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, the children’s book illustrator. I noticed something interesting about one of her compositions recently (a fairy shown on the back of what looks like an Australian bat of the kind known as a “flying fox”):


Animals go through fashions. For example, until the koala displaced it, the most popular and loved Australian animal was the wombat. Wombats were kept as pets by Englishmen. They were fashionable. The English artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti was a great wombat enthusiast, for example, and thought them the most beautiful of God’s creatures. Not many people would share his aesthetics today. In a listing of the world’s cutest animals, the koala was runner-up to the giant panda. I doubt that wombats were even in the running, so to speak. Anyway, I digress. My real point is that bats have never been particularly loved elements of the Australian fauna, although of late they have become slightly fashionable in some quarters, helped along by books such as this:

So it is a bit surprising to see a slightly sentimental and popular genre artist like Ida Rentoul Outhwaite using bats in her fairy illustrations, especially as she published most of her work before 1930.

Here is a English depiction from 1929 of a supernatural creature riding a bat (top right hand corner) but it appears to be a masculine pixie rather than a feminine fairy:


As I said, animals go through bursts of popularity. Here is a recent piece arguing the case for crows.

Rossetti lamenting the death of his wombat:


Cute animals get most of the conservation money.

7 responses to this post.

  1. Gosh, I love Ida’s artwork! I wasn’t aware she was Australian. I came across a few of her illustrated children’s books in a charity auction (unfortunately I did not win the lot 😦 ). I’m a sucker for Edwardian-era children’s illustrations.There’s something whimsical about that era, lots of fairy themes.

    I do my part saving all endangered wildlife, as I mentioned before, I’m a member of World Wildlife Fund’s plushie-a-month club!

    I’ve received a few freaky looking ones, though. For example, Tasmanian devils look nothing like the Looney Tunes character! (my husband was quiet amused when I made said observation)


  2. Posted by alcestiseshtemoa on June 18, 2013 at 11:58 am

    The first painting was beautiful, but I feel touched by Rossetti lamenting the death of his wombat.


  3. […] good Australian women artists I have written about previously include Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, Olivia Bernardoff (a local woman here in Canberra) and Sam Michele (here and […]


  4. Posted by Deborah Johnson on January 18, 2020 at 4:39 am

    I thought she was born in New Zealand, and educated in Australia. Was she a kiwi or an Ozzie. Lucky she wasn’t standing for Parliament.


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