Second Star to the Right and Straight on 'Til Morning!...

Join us on our journey with artist, Will Rochfort for the creation of a new painting called First Night  which captures the magic, wonder, and yes - the imagination of the first ever performance of Peter Pan at London's The Duke of York's Theatre in 1904.

The Legend

Christmas 1904. Word on the street in London was that playwright J.M. Barrie had lost his mind. His latest play, people whispered, featured of all things pirates, Indians, flying children, and a vengeful crocodile. Rehearsals had been a technical disaster, and the opening was delayed five times. When stuffy Victorian audiences finally came to The Duke of York's Theater for the very first performance of Peter Pan on December 27, 1904, it was with serious trepidation.

According to theatrical legend, at the last minute, Barrie arranged for 25 seats to be given to a local orphan's home. Buoyed by the ecstatic reaction of its most youthful audience members, the evening was a triumph.

Children believed and adults remembered how to be children.

From that evening and forever more, Peter Pan instantly became one of the world's most beloved and enduring stories.

The Artist

William Rochfort describes his dazzling and atmospheric oil paintings as "snapshots of moments in time." Influenced by artists including Norman Rockwell and Edward Hopper, his images are cinematic in scope and decidedly meta in conception; ultimately, they are concerned with observing the observers.

Each beautifully lit tableau invites us to think carefully about how we look and what we see by offering us a choice of perspectives: our own, or that of the players in the scene.

He sets up each scene he paints. He books the appropriate venue or setting, using a full cast of characters and carefully chosen handmade props, and, of course, creating the all-important lighting, before engaging in lengthy photo shoots, as well as in sketching and painting from life.

William Rochfort

The Painting

Capturing the climactic battle scene between Peter Pan, Captain Hook, the Lost Boys, and the Pirates on stage, the painting also depicts the 'first night' reactions from the audience's perspective. Some of the Victorian crowd is amused. Some are confused. One weary usher is even asleep!

But on the front row, the children brought in from the local orphanage are enraptured. One child reaches up with wonder towards the flying Peter Pan, oblivious to the activities of the men in the wings pulling the fly ropes.

This ambitious oil on canvas (84" x 42" or approximately 7' by 3.5') solidifies First Night as artwork as suitably epic as its source material.

Art, Story, and Connection

Our personal stories - our histories, experiences, beliefs, and values - fuel the unique and individual reactions we have when we encounter art and storytelling on a global level.

Following in the philanthropic footsteps of Peter Pan creator, J.M. Barrie, The Arts of Imagination Foundation will use First Night in its unique approach to art and storytelling as a catalyst and bridge for community conversation and connection.

Paired with other powerful examples of original narrative artwork spanning over a century of creativity, The Arts of Imagination Foundation will collaborate with local hospitals, museums, and art collectives on First Night exhibitions that also will include learning events featuring local artists and experts from psychology and related fields. These events will examine the relationship between our lived experiences and the timeless stories that have helped craft the larger human narrative.

In times of tremendous societal stress and strife, these stories and their imaginative impact become especially critical for us to preserve and examine for our families, our communities, for future generations... and ourselves.