Richard Dadd and the madness of an artist

Below is an excerpt from the novel Bedlam by Jennifer Higgie which gives a fictional account of the travels and madness of Victorian artist Richard Dadd.

Dadd was eventually confined to Bethlem Hospital and subsequently to the then ‘Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane’ (now Broadmoor Hospital) for the murder of his father and attempted murder of a tourist while being tormented by paranoid delusions.

Dadd was allowed to keep painting in hospital and produced some of the most important artwork of the era.

From p144 of the novel:

I find myself gazing at sand and seeing green hills.
I notice hideous faces glaring at me from the faces of sweet young girls.
I the silhouette of a pig in the mild eyes of a camel.
I lie stuck to my bed, covered in sweat as the mattress breathes and groans beneath me.
I have forgotten the names of my own sisters and brothers.
I speak happily, for hours, with my dead mother, whose hand I feel stroke mine, and curse the breath of my father, who is revealed to me as an impostor of the highest order.
I walk in sunlight and feel the hot glare of the moon burn my skin.
I see scorpions the size of men haunting ruins.
I crash into walls I do not see.
I pluck poisonous flowers and dream I boil them for tea.
I spend hours polishing teaspoons I do not need.
I long to dilute my colours with mirages, to make them hot and trembling.

Link to details of Higgie’s Bedlam.
Link to Wikipedia page on Dadd.

One thought on “Richard Dadd and the madness of an artist”

  1. Richard Dadd at Orleans House Gallery

    This exhibition explores the life and work of one of the most fascinating Victorian visionaries – Richard Dadd (1817-1886).

    Works from the Bethlem Art and History Collections Trust, West London Mental Health NHS Trust and private collections are brought together to chart Dadd’s early career, travels to Europe and the Middle East, mental illness and work created while at Bethlem and Broadmoor Hospitals.

    Dr. Nicholas Tromans author of Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum published this July states:

    “Richard Dadd was one of the great Victorian painters, but spent his career in psychiatric hospitals, or as they were then known, lunatic asylums. An artist of extraordinary imagination from a young age, he was a specialist in fairy subjects before a tour of the Middle East triggered the onset of a mental illness that led him to kill his father. At Bethlem Hospital and then at Broadmoor, Dadd continued to work as an artist, creating haunting images combining bold imaginative leaps with the most delicate of miniaturist’s techniques. His art today presents both a beautiful mystery and a fascinating case study in the history of psychiatry.”

    To complement the exhibition, young people with disabilities who attend the Orleans House Gallery’s regular Octagon group have worked with artist Ashley Davies to create a collaborative work inspired by Dadd’s famous fairy paintings. This project has been generously supported by the Double O Charity.

    Exhibition runs from 28 May – 2 October 2011
    Orleans House Gallery, Riverside, Twickenham, TWE1 3DJ

    Free admission
    Gallery open Tuesdays- Saturdays 1.00-5.30pm, Sundays 2.00-5,30pm
    Tel: 020 8831 6000

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