The Passions of Richard Dadd


An exploration of works painted by the noted Victorian artist, Richard Dadd, during his confinement in the Bethlem Royal Hospital and Broadmoor Hospital will be shown at the Bethlem Gallery and Museum throughout January. The exhibition investigates Dadd’s range of emotional expressions from agony to joy and hatred to love. These rarely exhibited paintings were executed by Dadd during his time in Broadmoor Hospital and will be shown alongside the Bethlem’s unrivalled collection of his Sketches to Illustrate the Passions.

Richard Dadd was a promising young artist with the potential to become a leading talent in the early Victorian art world. Sadly he is now better known for the murder of his father in 1843 and the years he subsequently spent in the Bethlem and Broadmoor Hospitals.

Dadd showed early promise upon entering the Royal Academy Schools and exhibited his first works in 1837. His burgeoning reputation led him to being employed by Sir Thomas Phillips on his grand tour of Europe, the Middle East and Egypt. Unfortunately it was during this ten month journey that Dadd started to show signs of severe mental distress and by the time he reached home he was suffering from paranoid delusions. On 28th August 1843 he stabbed his father to death in Cobham Park, near Rochester in Kent, believing him to be the devil in disguise. It was this act that led to Dadd spending the rest of his life in confinement.

Whilst in hospital Dadd was encouraged by his doctors, including the physician superintendent Sir Charles Hood, to continue painting. The works completed during his time at the Bethlem reveal a mind actively exploring a world of fantasy. His most famous works include The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke now on display at Tate Britain, and Contradiction: Oberon and Titania, owned by Andrew Lloyd-Webber and last on public display in 2003 at the Royal Academy.

Dadd also explored a darker side of human experience, in his Sketches to Illustrate the Passions, that depict a wide range of emotions, many of which could be associated with mental distress. “A thought-provoking opportunity,” said Bethlem Museum curator Michael Phillips, “this exhibition enables visitors to see a number of paintings in this series, alongside rarely seen works for Broadmoor Hospital’s theatre, in which Dadd continued to pursue his theme of human emotions, both joyful and dramatic.”

To complement the Bethlem Gallery exhibition the adjacent Bethlem Museum will also be displaying earlier works by this enigmatic painter.

Richard Dadd Exhibition, 13th – 28th January, Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 4pm. Museum also open Saturday 15th and 22nd January 11am – 4pm. The Bethlem Gallery, Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent BR3 3BX. Gallery website.


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