Happy Birthday Richard Dadd!

Richard Dadd

Today is the birthday of English Victorian artist Richard Dadd (b.1817 – 1886 Chatham Kent)  The supernatural held  a great fascination for Dadd and fairies and other worldly beings abound throughout this artist’s work.  His subject matter is extremely detailed and also included Oriental themes.


At 20 he attended The Royal Academy of Arts with Augustus Egg and William Frith amongst others.  He was considered a leadiing talent and along with Egg, Frith and Henry O’ Neilfounded the Clique.  It was during  an expedition from Europe to Greece, Turkey, Syria and Egypt in 1842 where he accompanied Sir Thomas Phillips that Frith underwent a transformation.  He became delusional and increasingly violent, believing he that the Egyptian God Osiris was influencing him.  At first it was believed that he had sunstroke.

Oberon and Titania

Unfortunately, when he returned home Dadd was diagnosed to be of unsound mind.  His family sent him to Cobham in Kent to recuperate.  Whilst there he became convinced that his father was really the Devil in disguise, so he killed him with a knife and then fled to France. 

Whilst in France, he attacked a tourist with a razor, and was arrested by the police.  On his return to England he was interred at Bethlem psychiatric hospital (Bedlam) and also Broadmoor, where he was encouraged to paint.  Many of his best paintings were created in hospital including ‘The Fairy Fellers  Master-Stroke’.

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

This particular painting took him a long time to paint (between 1855 – 1864)  – and he was never to finish it .  He  also painted 33 watercolour drawings as well as shipping scenes and landscapes.  Most of his work are small-scale and the attention to detail is astonishing.


Dadd spent 20 years in Bedlam before moving to Broadmoor outside London.  He remained there, painting until he died in 1886 of a disease relating to the lungs. 

the ballad monger

Dadd has influenced writers, musicians and playwrights.  British Rock band Queen were inspired to write a song based on and named ‘The Fairy Fellers Master – Stroke’  Terry Pratchet wrote ‘the Wee Free Man’ in 2003 and Robert Rankin‘s ‘The Witches of Chiswick‘ were both inspired by the same painting.

The Halt in the Desert 1845

A radio play ‘Come unto these Yellow Sands‘ by fantasy writer Angela Carter was written about the artist’s life and Richard Babley (known as Mr Dick in David Copperfield) is also said to have a connection with Richard Dadd.

More information about Dadd here and here

Dadd working from here

Puck here

Fairy Fellers Master Stroke here

Oberon and Titania here

The Ballad Monger here

More information about The Halt in the Desert

There’s a new POETRY CHALLENGE over on Bookstains – just click here

13 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Richard Dadd!

  1. Augustus Egg? Is that name for real? Dickens would have killed to use that one in his books!
    It seems so many artists are a little, or a lot, mad. Or maybe the rest of society just didn’t understand them. I like Dadd’s paintings you’ve used here. I know his name but would have struggled to name a painting of his. What a fascinating fella he was. Thanks for an illuminating post, Lynda!

    1. Yes that was his real name Wendy 🙂 Here’s some of his work http://tinyurl.com/4x6onmm
      He was a very popular artist (in Victorian times) I can just imagine the Egg family in a Dickens book 🙂 They live in a crumbling old house known locally as Egg Florentine. They had money but they gambled it all away (apart from the house) The old man has one eye, he lost the other in a dual over a lady’s honour 😀 He married that lady, and now he is very sorry. She turned out to be a bit of a harridan, always complaining about their lifestyle and how she is used to better things. Hey, it’s coming together 😀

      1. The Travelling Companions, I didn’t realise that was an Egg painting! Thanks for that link.
        Egg Florentine? That’s awful, Lynda!! Hehe
        I think one of the family has to be a ‘poacher’ (poached Egg…)
        No doubt there’s also a rather plain daughter who spends her time sewing and gazing out the window at the young handsome landowner who’s their neighbour. He marries the beautiful vicar’s daughter and Plain Jane plans the woman’s downfall…..
        Jane Austen has nothing on us!

        1. The reason its known as Egg Florentine is….er……because of the two white towers which peep out amidst the overgrown garden ;-D I like the poacher 😀 he has just got to have one leg (caught by his own trap) Now Plain jane – what can we call her? Lucrezia? She sits there each night secreting small effigies into a belated wedding gifts for her rival 😀 But her time WILL come…. ;-D

          1. And in one of the towers is Egg’s demented mother, wandering around her rooms at night time, wailing and singing gothic love songs.
            The wedding gifts are accidentally intercepted by the innocent younger daughter of the vicar…her demise causes a rupture in the marriage…Lucrezia sees her opportunity….lol

            1. Lucrezia sees her chance at the daughters funeral and offers the vicar a drink (a love potion which she has been concocting). The vicar drinks the potion, puts his chalice down and looks at Lucrezia with new eyes……. from that moment, his wife no longer exists for him. His heart has forgotton her and his senses yearn towards Lucrezia – craving and wanton.
              Hheh Mills and Boon eat your heart out 😀

  2. I always feel for peopleof that era who struggle mentally and for those who come in contact with them, in this case. However, there is so much to study in each painting and it boggles my mind and prods me to see story after story within them. I hope these were not visions that haunted his mind, but think, due to the reality of each scene, he knew these visions. Thank you for an introduction to yet another interesting artist.

    1. Yes, the detail is fascinating. I have a great interest in ‘outsider’ art, and I suppose in a way you could call Dadd an outsider, even though he had been trained as an artist. Outsider artists usually go into a lot of minute detail with their work – I suppose it must concentrate the mind. I know that when I’m doing something highly decorative I can get absolutely lost in it, especailly if it’s a minute repetative pattern. You have a good point about the visions Leslie, was the artist painting the things he ‘saw’ in his minds eye? I suspect so. I feel so sorry for those inmates in Bedlam, many were spectacles for the idol rich. I should imagine he had a comfortable room though in which to paint though. Glad you liked this artist 🙂

  3. Fascinating piece! I am always surprised by how relatively liberal Dadd’s treatment in Bedlam was, and that most of his best-known paintings were done in hospital.

    The level of detail in his paintings is astonishing. A few years ago there was an exhibition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s art collection at the Royal Academy that included Oberon and Titania (as well as some gorgeous pre-Rapaelites). The painting itself is too small to be examined closely by more than one person at a time, and next to it they displayed a screen with a scanned image that you could zoom into, revealing literally microscopic detail, almost to small to see with the naked eye. I especially remember the tiny dancing figures trapped in the dewdrops hanging from the flowers on a larger figure’s hat. They were barely visible in the original, but could be clearly seen int he magnification. Dadd’s eyesight must have been quite phenomenal,.

    1. Thanks AlyxL, this sounds fantastic – Lllyd Webber sounds quite a collector! I feel so sorry for Dadd, but I suppose he was quite happy in Bedlam, living in his own world. Let’s hope he derived a lot of satisfaction and that the act of painting soothed his troubled mind.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: