Fairy Tales: Ever After


The final major theme of ‘Fairy Tales’, ‘Ever After’ addresses love and the myriad ways this complex emotion plays out in the genre. While the sentiment of ‘happily ever after’ often implies romantic love, fairy tales also offer broader perspectives on human connections, including love in all its forms — familial, platonic, intellectual and, of course, unrequited.

Bringing together works of art, design and film, ‘Ever After’ draws on the influential writings of Hans Christian Andersen, Carlo Collodi, AS Byatt and Oscar Wilde, alongside the many stories inspired by the Arabian Nights — also known as One Thousand and One Nights — a volume of Middle Eastern folktales and stories from across the Arab world and India.

Production still from The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) / Director: Lotte Reiniger / Courtesy: The British Film institute National Archive, London / © British Film institute

Published at the same time European fairy tales emerged from French salons, these stories were first translated from Arabic in the early 1700s by French orientalist Antoine Galland, who took the liberty of adding his own now-famous tales, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves’. Hugely popular, their themes of wealth, revenge and transformation merged with European conventions to forge the modern fairy tale. These influences can be seen in the aspirational stories of ‘Cinderella’ and ‘Snow White’, narratives that continue to inform our understanding of fairy tales and romantic love to this day.

Buy Tickets to ‘Fairy Tales’
Until 28 April 2024
Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane

‘Fairy Tales’ unfolds across three themed chapters. ‘Into the Woods’ explores the conventions and characters of traditional fairy tales alongside their contemporary retellings. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ presents newer tales of parallel worlds that are filled with unexpected ideas and paths. ‘Ever After’ brings together classic and current tales to celebrate aspirations, challenge convention and forge new directions.

Travel with us in our weekly series through each room and theme of the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) as we take you on a journey to see magical objects on display.

DELVE DEEPER: Journey through the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition with our weekly series


Lotte Reiniger ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp’ (1954)

Lotte Reiniger, Germany/England 1899–1981 / Production stills from Aladdin and the Magic Lamp 1954 / 35mm film transferred to digital: 14 minutes, black and white (tinted), mono; English; Director/animator: Lotte Reiniger / Courtesy: The British Film institute National Archive, London / © British Film institute

‘Arabian Nights’ (or ‘One Thousand and One Nights’) — a collection of folktales from the Middle East — have been influential throughout the history of cinema, not least in the work of German animator and filmmaker Lotte Reiniger. Reiniger’s Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed (The Adventures of Prince Achmed) (1926) (illustrated) was released more than ten years before the Walt Disney Studio production of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), making it the earliest existing animated feature.

Reiniger was the foremost pioneer of the silhouette animation technique, created by manipulating cardboard cut-outs of characters and backgrounds, frame by frame, the camera overhead taking a single shot with each movement. Reiniger would go on to make more than 60 animated films, sequences and advertisements using this painstaking technique. A tale of love, adventure and a genie, Reiniger’s Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (1954) (illustrated and screening in ‘Fairy Tales’) recreates sequences and motifs from The Adventures of Prince Achmed.

Hans Christian Andersen Papercuts c.1850s–70s

Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark 1805–75 / Papercuts installed in ‘Fairy Tales’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane 2023 / Collection: Museum Odense, Denmark

Danish author and artist Hans Christian Andersen was one of the most prolific tellers of fairy tales of the nineteenth-century. He wrote 168 tales, including the beloved stories of ‘The Little Mermaid’, ‘The Snow Queen’, ‘The Little Match Girl’ and ‘The Nightingale’, to name just a few. Andersen embraced the joy and wonder of fairy tales; his poetic stories often focused on themes of identity, transformation, and the complexities of human emotions. In contrast to the Brothers Grimm, who collected existing stories from others, Andersen wrote new fairy tales, drawing on folklore, mythology and his own experiences.

Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark 1805–75 / Swans with ballerinas c.1850s–70s / Paper, mounted on card / 9.4 x 13.6cm / Collection: Museum Odense, Denmark
Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark 1805–75 / Theatre decoration with ballerinas holding a wreath 1874 / Paper, mounted on card / 13.3 x 18.2cm / Collection: Museum Odense, Denmark

In his private life, Andersen was also a great oral storyteller and entertained his friends with delicate papercuts, which he would unfurl to reveal enchanting pictures and landscapes filled with trees, castles, theatres and dancers. Andersen described these scherenschnittes (‘scissor cuts’) — inspired by the ancient Chinese art of papercutting and silhouette puppetry popular in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries — as a prelude to writing. He would produce the papercuts during after-dinner conversations, gifting them to his companions and hosts. While not directly related to Andersen’s famous tales, the nine papercuts on display in ‘Fairy Tales’ feature recurrent images drawn from the theatre, ballet and other performances, as well as images capturing the widespread nineteenth-century fascination with distant lands and cultures.

Henri Matisse Ballets Russes costume c.1920

Henri Matisse, France 1869–1954 / Marie Muelle (costumier), France / Costume for a mourner (from the Ballets Russes de Sergei Diaghilev production of ‘Le chant du rossignol’) c.1920 installed in ‘Fairy Tales’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane 2023 / Cotton-wool felt, cotton-silk velvet, sized cotton, steel wire, cotton lining / 166.5cm (height; centre back) / Purchased 1973 / Collection: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra / © Succession H Matisse/Copyright Agency

In Hans Christian Andersen’s story ‘The Nightingale’ (1843), a Chinese emperor learns the value of unconditional love and forgiveness from a nightingale, a small brown bird with a magical voice. Despite being replaced by a prettier, jewel-encrusted, mechanical songbird (presented to the emperor as a gift), the nightingale returns to him in his hour of need. Andersen’s reflection on the timeless worth of friendship expressed in this story also reflected his era, one of great industrialisation, in which the values of nature and technology were being weighed.

Andersen’s ‘The Nightingale’ has been adapted to stage and screen, including, most notably, for the Paris-based Ballets Russes’s 1920 variation of composer Igor Stravinsky’s 1914 opera Le chant du rossignol (Song of the Nightingale), on display in ‘Fairy Tales’ is Costume for a mourner c.1920 (illustrated), one of most famous costumes from the performance. Known for their unconventional and ambitious productions, the Ballets Russes developed inventive collaborations with choreographers, composers, designers and artists.

Detail of Costume for a mourner (from the Ballets Russes de Sergei Diaghilev production of ‘Le chant du rossignol’) c.1920

Henri Matisse was commissioned by Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev to design the costumes, set and decorative elements for the production. Costume for a mourner is one of the few costumes to have survived. Influenced by the Persian and Indian art Matisse had seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London while working on the ballet, the costume’s design also features the artist’s distinctive use of paper-cutting, evident in the appliqué of velvet chevrons adorning a loose-fitting white felt robe and headdress. While Matisse’s more widely known ‘cut-out’ period did not emerge until much later in his career, this early use of cut‑outs in his modernist ballet design echoes Hans Christian Andersen’s love of storytelling using intricate papercuts.

Kenneth Branagh (director) Glass slipper from ‘Cinderella’ (2015)

Kenneth Branagh (director), United Kingdom b.1960 / Sandy Powell (designer), England b.1960 / Glass slipper from Cinderella 2015 installed in ‘Fairy Tales’, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Brisbane 2023 / Swarovski crystal / 20.3 x 19 x 7.6cm / Courtesy: The Walt Disney Company / © Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Having traversed borders and cultures, from ancient Egypt to China, to Greece, ‘Cinderella’ is one of the oldest recorded fairy tales. The most familiar version of the tale today draws on French author Charles Perrault’s ‘Cendrillon‘, written in 1697. Perrault’s was the first version to introduce the iconic fairy godmother, pumpkin coach and slipper made of glass — a magical object that sees noble rights restored, usurpers denounced, and eternal love granted.

On display in ‘Fairy Tales’ we see one of the most iconic glass slippers in cinematic history, the Swarovski crystal creation (illustrated), designed by Sandy Powell for director Kenneth Branagh’s live-action film Cinderella 2015. This slipper was developed directly from the example in the 1950 Walt Disney Studios’ animated film. Manifested on screen with the magical wave of her fairy godmother’s wand, the slipper’s fragility and specific fit speaks to the unique value bestowed on Ella, for displaying the ideals of goodness, kindness, resilience and humility.

TheFairy Talesexhibition is at Brisbane’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), Australia from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

Fairy Tales Cinema: Truth, Power and Enchantment‘ presented in conjunction with GOMA’s blockbuster summer exhibition screens at the Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA from 2 December 2023 until 28 April 2024.

The major publication Fairy Tales in Art and Film’ available at the QAGOMA Store and online explores how fairy tales have held our fascination for centuries through art and culture.

From gift ideas, treats just for you or the exhibition publication, visit the ‘Fairy Tales’ exhibition shop at GOMA or online.

‘Fairy Tales’ merchandise available at the GOMA exhibition shop or online.