Richard Dadd – 1817 - 1886
The son of a Chatham pharmacist (and one of nine other children of whom at least three exhibited some form of mental instability), when the mild-mannered and cheerful Dadd entered the Royal Academy he was regarded as being one of his generation's most promising talents, going on to found ‘the Clique’ – a group of young artists of whom he was the undoubted and popular leader.
But something happened to affect Dadd’s health when, in 1842, he left England and travelled abroad, employed as an expedition artist. He journeyed through Greece and Turkey, Syria, and Egypt - and it was on his arrival in Egypt, when immersed in the country's culture and landscape that Dadd came to believe himself possessed by the spirit of the god Osiris.
Dadd's portrait of Sir Thomas Phillips
When brought back home to England, Dadd recuperated from his mental distress while staying with his family. But this period of convalescence only resulted in tragedy when Dadd suddenly murdered his father, convinced that he was the devil in disguise.
The Fairy Fellers Master-Stroke (painted between 1855 and 1864) - thought to be Dadd's most accomplished work
Attempting to flee to the safety of France, Dadd was apprehended and then returned to England where a list of other intended victims was found upon his person. Also, several portraits that he'd made were discovered with violent streaks of red pigment slashed across their throats - inferring that he also planned to damage the subjects of the works. Considered to be a serious risk, Dadd was confined to Bethlem (the asylum also known as Bedlam) and there he remained until 1864 when he was moved to Broadmoor – a hospital for the criminally insane where the artist lived for many years until dying of consumption.
During his years of confinement the talented artist was lucky enough to be under the care of kind and forward-thinking doctors who allowed their patient to continue producing his astonishing work.
Come unto these Yellow Sands
The VV's favourite painting by Dadd is Come unto these Yellow Sands, inspired by Fairy Land iii, a poem by William Shakespeare - and this is also the title of a radio play by Angela Carter, in which she wrote about Dadd's life. The VV has only been able to source this very short extract from the play - but there is always the hope that Radio 4 might one day decide to repeat the play again.
COME unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands:
Court'sied when you have, and kiss'd,-
The wild waves whist,-
Foot it featly here and there:
And, sweet sprites, the burthen bear.
The watch-dogs bark:
Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum by Nicholas Tromans is a book with a wealth of information and stunning reproductions of the artist's work. Tate Publishing in July 2011.