Richard Dadd (1817-1886)

Best known for his fairy pictures and the sad circumstances of his life, the artist Richard Dadd grew up in Chatham on the Medway, going to school at Rochester (on these pages for its artistic interest). Many of his family were involved with shipbuilding, and Dadd's early interests were ships and sketching the landscape around where he lived - Rochester Castle appears in the background of some of his pictures. He studied at the Royal Academy, where he came under the influence of painters such as Etty, Maclise, Mulready and Henry Howard, and began to paint fairy subjects from Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' and 'The Tempest', as well as increasingly his own subjects. He was also a member of the group of artists known as the Clique.

In 1842, Dadd went on a 10 month trip with a wealthy lawyer, Sir Thomas Phillips, to draw his journey as he travelled through Europe and the Near and Middle East, and while on this trip he began to suffer headaches and delusions. Eventually, feeling himself to be under the command of the Egyptian god Osiris, he returned to England, murdered his father, and escaped to France, before being captured and sent to the London lunatic asylum of Bethlem Hospital in 1844. He was kept there for 20 years before being transferred to Broadmoor Asylum in Berkshire, where he was to live out the remainder of his life.

Dadd's most important pictures were The Fairy Feller's Masterstroke and Contradiction, Oberon and Titania, unsurpassed in their fine detail by any other painter. As well as his earlier fairy pictures, he painted landscapes both before and after his incarceration, and also painted series of allegorical watercolours such as the Passions, including Love, Hatred, Jealousy etc. In 1842, he produced some few fairy illustrations, for 'Robin Goodfellow' and the 'Book of British Ballads'.

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