Richard Dadd

Painted fairies from psychiatric prisons
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Rivaat Zarlif

Contributor

For most of his life, Richard Dadd had no audience or patrons and painted his fairlyland creatures in total isolation. 

The fourth of nine children to a pharmacist in Kent, young Dadd was a leading light of his generation in the UK, and widely liked for his gentle intelligence and good nature. Unfortunately for Dadd, his life took a major unexpected twist when he decided to join up as a draftsman on a challenging 10-month grand tour of Europe and the Middle East. 

 

Without frequent flyer miles, they proceeded by carriage, boat, mule, and foot from England to Belgium, Germany, Greece, and onwards to Cyprus, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, down and back up the Nile to Thebes by boat, and then back to the England through Malta and Italy. Somewhere in Egypt the god of the afterlife Osiris took control of Dadd. He developed a raging anger towards religious liberals, like his friends and his own father. Increasingly belligerent, his travel companions diagnosed him as suffering from sunstroke. Then in Rome.  he attended a public ceremony presided over by the Pope, and just barely fought off an ‘uncontrollable urge’ to kill him.

 

Dadd returned from this journey, age 25, with his Osiris delusion in full force. At Osiris’ order he stabbed his father to death as they walked together through a park. He fled to France but was apprehended when he tried to do a Frenchman with a razor. Now properly diagnosed as ‘insane’ (more recently as paranoid schizophrenic), he wisely spent his remaining 42 years in Britain's notorious psychiatric prisons Bethlem and Broadmore. The voyage may have been a trigger for his madness, but two of his siblings suffered similarly so it was probably genetic.

 

Bethlem and Broadmore aren’t exactly artistic havens and Dadd’s schizophrenia did not let up. Despite the institutions’ iffy reputations, Dadd did enjoy the support of some of his jailers and, against some tough odds, produced a large number of highly detailed masterpieces.

 

 

 

 

Richard Dadd is mentioned on Sartle Blog -