Richard Dadd was an English
painter of the Victorian era who killed her father convinced that was
the Devil in disguise
On the night of 28th August 1843,
Richard Dadd, twenty-six years old and already a noted artist, member
of the Royal Academy of Arts and specialising in supernatural subjects,
and his father, Robert, were staying at the Ship, Cobham, Kent. They
had a few drinks during the evening and, about 9pm, decided to go for
a walk. The pair walked to Cobham Park and, as they arrived, Dadd
senior decided that he wanted to relieve himself. As he turned his
back he was attacked by his son, who tried to cut his father's throat
with a razor. He then stabbed his father with a sailor's knife and
Dadd went to France and told
people that the Egyptian god Osiris had ordered him to carry out the
attack. He made a similar frenzied assault on a man travelling on a
stagecoach with him in France. French police had him committed to an
asylum. English police, however, had not finished with Dadd and
applied for extradition. Dadd was returned to England and appeared
before Maidstone Assizes in August 1844.
Dadd was found unfit to plead and
was sent to Bethleham Hospital at Southwark. When Broadmoor Asylum for
the Criminally Insane opened he was transferred there and lived out
the rest of his life. Richard Dadd died of consumption on 8th January
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.
Life and work
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
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, Southern Syria and
finally Egypt. In November of that year they spent a gruelling two
weeks in Southern Syria, 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.
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.
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
Bethlem psychiatric hospital (also known as Bedlam). Here and
subsequently at the newly created Broadmoor 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.
Dadd probably suffered from a form of paranoid
schizophrenia. 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.
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.
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."
The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke inspired
a song of the same name by the British rock band Queen. The painting
also is a plot element in The Witches of Chiswick by Robert
Rankin. The Wee Free Men, a novel by Terry Pratchett, edited
in 2003, was in a central part inspired by it as well.
The British fantasy writer Angela Carter wrote
Come unto these Yellow Sands, a radio-play based on Dadd's life.
The British composer Oliver Knussen considered
naming his piece Flourish with Fireworks after The Fairy
Feller's Master-Stroke, as its composition owes a lot to the
small, exquisite, quirky details in the painting and contains a
similar attempted correlation of large and small scale.
Canadian author R.J. Anderson acknowledges Dadd
as the basis of her fictional painter Alfred Wrenfield, who figures
prominently in her young adult fantasy novel Knife (Faery
Rebels: Spell Hunter in the USA).
The full name of the eccentric character Mr. Dick
in David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, is Richard Babley, which
echoes the name of Dickens' contemporary Richard Dadd.
In 1987 a long-lost watercolour by Dadd, The
Artist's Halt in the Desert, was discovered by Peter Nahum on the
BBC TV programme Antiques Roadshow. Made while the artist was
incarcerated, it is based on sketches made during his tour of the
Middle East, and shows his party encamped by the Dead Sea, with Dadd
at the far right. It was later sold for £100,000 to the British Museum
The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke by Richard
Dadd, oil on canvas, 26 inches x 21 inches, 1855-64, Tate Gallery,
London, England, UK.