In the final of our series of features on artists who dealt with schizophrenia, we turn our attention to a master painter of the Victorian age named Richard Dadd. This gentleman is most known for his attention to detail down to the minute and minuscule. He also painted wonderful images of the supernatural and fantastical, including faeries, scenery from the mysterious Orient, and other genre depictions that capture the mind of us who know schizophrenia. These topics may have been inspired by his journey with schizophrenia as many of his works were produced during his stay in a psychiatric institution.
The Life of Richard Dadd
Richard Dadd was born on the fateful day of August the 1st in the year 1817 in Chatham, Kent, England to a chemist father. It is said that young Richard not only loved drawing but was so good at it that it was obvious that he would be an artist of some form. Whether through his love or through the urgings of others, he was admitted into the Royal Academy of Arts when he reached the age of 20 years. In this time, he founded a group of artists called The Clique, received a medal for life drawing, and also trained further at the William Dadson Academy of Art.
The Development of Dadd’s Schizophrenia
During this acute mental breakdown, Dadd began to experience delusions that Osiris, the Egyptian god was placing him under an external influence. He became resistant and violent towards attempts to calm him and his mates assumed him to be suffering from a sunstroke. However, upon his return home in 1843, doctors found him to be of unsound mind and unstable.
Dadd’s family thought he would find it more conducive to recovery to spend some time in Cobham, Kent, where the landscape was more one of the country and peace. Unfortunately, this did not help, and later in the Autumn of the same year Dadd took his father’s life during a struggle with a knife, having believed that his father was the Devil disguised. His violence did not diminish and Dadd later assaulted a tourist on his way to Paris with a razor blade, but fortunately was restrained and detained by the police. At this time he admitted to being responsible for the death of his father and was committed to the Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital (better known as Bedlam). Dadd was propelled to continue his joy of painting while living at Bedlam and the Broadmoor Hospital.
It wasn’t determined at the time, but it is likely that Dadd’s diagnosis would have been one of paranoid schizophrenia. Among his siblings, two had similar symptoms and one required a private attendant for reasons unknown. This means that it is likely that he was genetically predisposed to developing schizophrenia.
It was during these twenty years that Richard Dadd produced the majority of his work. At Broadmoor Hospital he remained as a lunatic and criminal until he perished on January the 7th, 1886 from a lung disease.
A Look Into The Art of Richard Dadd
The most famous of Dadd’s masterworks is the Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, using oil on canvas. The detail rendered is so amazing and lifelike, and yet the work is produced from his imagination. He also produced a collection of 33 watercolor paintings including the amazing Sketches to Illustrate the Passions. He also produced a variety of shipping scenes and other ethereal and magical landscapes such as Port Stragglin.
In a very interesting turn of events, in 1987 a watercolor by Dadd was found that had previously been considered lost. It is entitled The Artist’s Halt in the Desert and was found on the modern TV show called Antiques Roadshow that airs on the British Broadcasting Channel. It features Dadd himself and his part at the Dead Sea. This piece was sold to the British Museum for £100,000!
This only goes to show you the skill and craftsmanship of our wonderful artists who dealt with schizophrenia. Like most greats, ill or not, they never receive the recognition they deserve while they are alive and are only validated long after their death.
Thank you for reading along with our 6th and final famous artist that also dealt with the psychological impairment of schizophrenia. If you did not follow along, please feel free to go back and read more. Otherwise, please submit your own work, whether that be paintings, drawings, stories, poetry, or other inspired art! Thank you!