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Richard Dadd
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Chatham, Kent
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Broadmoor Hospital, Berkshire
Richard Dadd was one of the most unusual and eccentric artists of the 19th century. Born in Chatham, Kent, in 1817, Dadd’s early artistic training took place in the British Museum, after his family moved to London in 1834. He entered the Royal Academy schools in 1837, where he earned three silver medals before 1840. He first exhibited in an exhibition sponsored by the Society of British Artists at London’s Suffolk Street Galleries in 1837. He exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1839 to 1842. Dadd became known as a “fairy painter” with two scenes created in 1841 illustrating events in William Shakespeare’s (1564-1616) A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Titania Sleeping (Paris: Musée du Louvre) and Puck (private collection). He was commissioned to decorate the Grosvenor Square house (now demolished) of Thomas Henry Foley (1808-1869), the fourth Baron Foley, with some one hundred paintings. On the recommendation of the Orientalist painter David Roberts (1796-1864), Dadd accompanied Sir Thomas Phillips (1801-1867), a Welsh lawyer, on an extended tour of southern Europe and the Near East beginning in 1842 and lasting ten months, working both as an artist and a traveling companion. Several of Dadd’s watercolors inspired by this trip survive, including Bearded Man with a Pipe (1842-1843) in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, showing a man in Turkish costume. During the latter part of the tour Dodd began to show signs of severe mental disorder. After returning to London, Dadd lured his devoted father to a park in Cobham on August 28, 1843 and murdered him with a knife under the delusion that his father was the devil. Dadd fled to France, where he was arrested two days later for attempting to slay a complete stranger. After being held in a French asylum, Dodd was returned to England after ten months, where he was certified insane. He was first placed in Bethlem Hospital, Saint George’s Fields, Lambeth, in a ward for the criminally insane, and after the construction of the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum in Berkshire Dadd was transferred there in 1864 with all of Bethlem’s insane criminals, where he was confined until his death of consumption in 1886. Throughout his years of incarceration, the no-longer-violent artist produced a large body of highly personal work, including the famous fairy paintings Contradiction: Oberon and Titania (1854-1858, private collection) and The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke (1855-1865, London: Tate Gallery) and a bizarre series of thirty-two watercolors, Sketches to Illustrate the Passions (1853-1856, various locations). Dadd’s work remained in obscurity until the 1960s when The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke became known. The Tate Gallery mounted a retrospective of his work in 1974. (RFJ 1985, rev. TNB 3/2015) Selected bibliography: Allderidge, Patricia H. The Late Richard Dadd. Exhibition catalog. London: Tate Gallery, 1974. Tromans, Nicholas. Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum. New York: Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2011.