Saturday, July 24, 2010

Richard Dadd

Writers, and often the public, like to romanticize the connection between madness and art. From the emotional anguish of van Gogh to the physical violence of Caravaggio, there is a notion of the artist going to the brink, and over, and returning with visions from the other side that would be inaccessible to the normal mind.

Whether this is true is a matter of debate, and mental illness is hardly romantic, though in the case of Victorian Painter Richard Dadd, his most memorable works of ramantic fantasy were produced after he was committed to “Bedlam” (Bethlem Hospital) because of violent insanity.

Dadd descended into a state we would now call paranoid schizophrenia during a trip to Egypt and the middle east. After his return, he murdered his father, who he evidently believed was possessed by the devil, and fled to Paris, where he was arrested for assaulting another traveler, who he also perceived as possessed. Evidently there was a genetic predisposition to mental illness in his family.

Dadd was a painter whose images of fairies and other subjects from folklore and fantasy are part of a larger stylistic branch of Victorian painting dealing with these subjects, sometimes simply called the “Fairy School”. His pre-commitment paintings of the subject were open and airy; those created afterwards, for which he is most noted, are quite different, large scale, flattened in perspective and richly (or obsessively) detailed.

Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, shown here, is his most recognized work. Dadd worked on it for nine years and still considered it unfinished. He finally did stop working on it, however, and then produced a copy in watercolor (the original is in oil) and wrote a strange “guidebook” for the painting in verse.

It’s difficult to get any feeling for this painting from the tiny image here. There is a large version here, another large one here and a larger one here, that is unfortunately a bit dark.

Low resolution web versions still don’t convey the detail in the image, though. If you are interested you really should look for a reproduction in print. The one I have is in Victorian Painting by Lionel Lambourne (an excellent book, BTW). There are also books devoted to Dadd’s work. The World of Richard Dadd by Michael Mott is inexpensive and serves as a nice introduction.

By all accounts, though, you really can’t grasp this painting, which is in the Tate Gallery in London, until you see it in person (I haven’t), because of the dramatically three-dimensional nature of the application of the paint.

Dadd did many other paintings during the time he spent in the hospitals, and his work has been influential on fantasy painters from his own time through the present.

Found Here:

Richard Dadd (1 August 1817 – 7 January 1886) was an English painter of the Victorian era, noted for his depictions of fairies and other supernatural subjects, Orientalist scenes, and enigmatic genre scenes, rendered with obsessively minuscule detail. Most of the works for which he is best known were created while he was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital.

Dadd was born at Chatham, Kent, England, the son of a chemist. His aptitude for drawing was evident at an early age, leading to his admission to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 20. With William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg, Henry O'Neil and others, he founded The Clique, of which he was generally considered the leading talent.[1]

In July 1842, Sir Thomas Phillips, the former mayor of Newport, chose Dadd to accompany him as his draftsman on an expedition through Europe to Greece, Turkey, Palestine and finally Egypt. In November of that year they spent a gruelling two weeks in Palestine, passing from Jerusalem to Jordan and returning across the Engaddi wilderness. Toward the end of December, while travelling up the Nile by boat, Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change, becoming delusional and increasingly violent, and believing himself to be under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris. His condition was initially thought to be sunstroke.[2]

On his return in the spring of 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and was taken by his family to recuperate in the countryside village of Cobham, Kent. In August of that year, having become convinced that his father was the Devil in disguise, Dadd killed him with a knife and fled for France.[3] En route to Paris Dadd attempted to kill another tourist with a razor, but was overpowered and was arrested by the police. Dadd confessed to the killing of his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of BethlemBroadmoor Hospital, Dadd was cared for (and encouraged to continue painting) by the likes of Drs William Wood and Sir W. Charles Hood, in an enlightened manner. psychiatric hospital (also known as Bedlam). Here and subsequently at the newly created

Dadd probably suffered from a form of paranoid schizophrenia.[4] He appears to have been genetically predisposed to mental illness; two of his siblings were similarly afflicted, while a third had "a private attendant" for unknown reasons.[2]

In the hospital he was allowed to continue to paint and it was here that many of his masterpieces were created, including his most celebrated painting, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which he worked on between 1855 and 1864. Also dating from the 1850s are the thirty-three watercolour drawings titled Sketches to Illustrate the Passions, which include Grief or Sorrow, Love, and Jealousy, as well as Agony-Raving Madness and Murder. Like most of his works these are executed on a small scale and feature protagonists whose eyes are fixed in a peculiar, unfocused stare. Dadd also produced many shipping scenes and landscapes during his incarceration, such as the ethereal 1861 watercolour Port Stragglin. These are executed with a miniaturist's eye for detail which belie the fact that they are products of imagination and memory.[5]

After 20 years at Bethlem, Dadd was moved to the criminal lunatic asylum at Broadmoor, outside London. Here he remained, painting constantly and receiving infrequent visitors until 7 January 1886, when he died, "from an extensive disease of the lungs."[6]

Found Here:

  • Richard Dadd was an English faery painter and illustrator. Born in Chatham, Kent, Dadd began drawing at the age of 14 and entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1837. His promising career was interrupted by a sudden mental breakdown during a trip to the Holy Land (1842-3).

    Dadd returned to London and murdered his father. Committed as insane in 1844, Dadd spent the rest of his life in care. In London's Bethlem Hospital he painted his meticulously worked oils Oberon and Titania (1854-8; private collection) and the The Faery Feller's Master Stroke (1855-64; Tate Gallery, London).

    In 1864 he was moved to Broadmoor; he continued to paint well on into the 1880s.

  • Source: Biographical Dictionary of Artists

  • The public has always been fascinated by the concept of the mad artist, a creative genius in an alien world, a prey to hallucinations which his works reveal to us as visions from another world. The tragic Richard Dadd (1817-86) was just such a figure. As a young man he was a member of 'The Clique', an informal group of artists who came together in the year of Queen Victoria's accession, 1837. Other members included William Powell Frith, Henry O'Neill, Augustus Leopald Egg, John Phillip (1817-67), Edward Matthew Ward, Alfred Elmore and Thomas Joy (1812-66). It was essentially a sketching society for students, for Dadd, Phillip and Frith were all pupils of the Royal Academy Schools.

    The young artists met weekly at Dadd's rooms, where they spent an hour or two sketching subjects drawn in the main from Shakespeare or Byron, after which one of the guests would choose the best drawing. Dadd, generally acknowledged to be the finest draughtsman, often undertook character portraits of members of the group. The evenings ended with a light supper of bread, cheese and beer. At one of their meetings, they mapped out their futures, as young men will: 'Frith said he intended to paint pictures of ordinary life, such as would take with the public. O'Neil determined on painting incidents of striking character, appealing to the feelings, and Phillip desired to illustrate incidents in the lives of famous persons. Dadd proposed to devote himself to works of the imagination.' In this ambition he was to succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

    Dadd was born in 1817 at Chatham in Kent where his father was a chemist. When in 1837 he entered the Royal Academy Schools, with a recommendation from Clarkson Stansfield, his father moved to London to provide him with a home. Dadd exhibited portraits and landscapes at the Academy and elsewhere until 1841, when he gained a major commission to paint a large number of panels for a nobleman's house in Grosvenor Square, some of the subjects being drawn from Byron's Manfred. The only known account of them describes how 'the Alpine mist or smoke about Manfred's head [was] ... composed of minute figures of men and women, explained by Dadd to be ideas formed and unformed, as their outlines were distinct or indistinct.' At the summer exhibitions of the Royal Academy that year Dadd exhibited one of his first important fairy paintings, Come unto these Yellow Sands, with the lines from Ariel's song in The Tempest:

      Come unto these yellow sands
      And then take hands
      ... Foot is featly here and there,
      And, sweet sprites, the burden bear.

    Dadd's paintings of fairies before the onset of his insanity have a lightness and ethereal sense of freedom, quite different from the intensely detailed and elaborately wrought delicacy of the later paintings.

    In July 1842, recommended by David Roberts, Dadd accompanied Sir Thomas Phillips on an expedition to Egypt and Asia Minor. He painted many vivid watercolours of picturesque views but gradually, after a bad sun-stroke at Thebes, became more and more disturbed. It now seems likely, however, that this was only a contributory factor to his condition, which we would today describe as paranoid schizophrenia. On the return jouney the party visited Rome, where Dadd felt a strong inclination to attack the Pope 'in a public place', but 'overcame the desire' as the Pontiff was so well protected. In Paris, rather than see a doctor he fled back to London, where he arrived in April 1843 in time to submit a cartoon for Westminister of St. George after the death of the dragon which, according to Frith, had an inordinately long tail. Stress and turmoil continued to assail him, and he became convinced that he was constantly being watched, a classic sympton of a persecution complex. His dementia grew until at the end of August he purchased a newcut-throat razor, which he used to kill his devoted father in Cobham Park.

    Dadd fled to France but was detained in Paris after trying to kill a fellow passenger on a coach, who was, he said, possessed by a devil. He remained in France for ten months before being returned to London, where he admitted his crime, claiming to be descended from the Egyptian god Osiris who had ordered him to kill his father who was possessed by the devil. On 22 August 1844 he was admitted to Bethlem Hospital, aged 27. Amazingly, most of his best work would be painted in the next forty-two years, at first at Bethlem and later at Broadmoor. From an early date he seems to have been given access to both watercolours and oils. He used the watercolours to paint a long series of works dealing with various human passions, and the oils to create his two masterpieces, Contradiction: Oberon and Titinia, the labour of four years from 1854 to 1858, and The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, on which he worked from 1857 to 1864.

    In The Fairy Feller our first visual impression of the work is akin to the sense of wonder when we lift a flagstone and stare down at the myriad activities of the insect world concealed underneath. Long grasses slant from side to side across the picture's surface, carpeted with hare bells, convolvulus, hazel-nuts and daisies, and a butterfly rests on a leaf. The fairy feller himself stands at the bottom right of the picture, with his primitive stone axe poised to split a nut to form a new chariot for Queen Mab. The complex cast of dwarves, fairies and figures, drawn from Dadd's watercolour works called The Passions, all stand motionless awaiting the fall of the axe, a complete world frozen in suspense.

    Dadd wrote a long commentary to accompany the painting, entitled An Elimination and dated January 1865, in which he asks us to forgive his fancies: 'You can afford to let this go for naught or nothing it explains. And nothing from nothing nothing gains.' Devoid of female companionship, he describes the loneliness of his own lot 'shut out from nature's game, banished from nature's book of life'. He died in January 1886.

  • Source: Victorian Painting

  • Further Reading: The World of Richard Dadd
  • Found Here:

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