Richard Dadd (August 1, 1817 - January 7, 1886) was a Victorian painter noted for his depictions of fairies and other supernatural subjects, Orientalist scenes, and enigmatic genre scenes, rendered with obsessively minuscule detail. Most of the works for which he is best known were created while he was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital.
His aptitude for drawing was evident at an early age, leading to his admission to the Royal Academy of Arts at the age of 20. With William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg, Henry O'Neil and others, he founded The Clique, of which he was generally considered the leading talent.
During a trip to the Middle East and Europe in 1842, Dadd became progressively less rational and increasingly violent, believing himself to be under the influence of the Egyptian god Osiris. His condition was initially thought to be sunstroke.
On his return in the spring of 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and was taken by his family to recuperate in the countryside village of Cobham, Kent. In August of that year, Dadd murdered his father with a knife while deluded, believing him to be the Devil in disguise, and fled for France; en route to Paris Dadd attempted to murder another tourist with a razor, but was unsuccessful and was arrested by the police. Dadd confessed to the murder of his father and was returned to England, where he was committed to the criminal department of Bethlem psychiatric hospital.
In the hospital he was allowed to continue to paint and it was here that many of his masterpieces were created, including his most celebrated painting, The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which he worked on between 1855 and 1864. Also dating from the 1850s are the thirty-three watercolor drawings titled Sketches to Illustrate the Passions, which include Grief or Sorrow, Love, and Jealousy, as well as Agony-Raving Madness and Murder. Like most of his works these are executed on a small scale and feature protagonists whose eyes are fixed in a peculiar, unfocused stare. Dadd also produced many shipping scenes and landscapes during his incarceration, such as the ethereal 1861 watercolor Port Stragglin. These are executed with a miniaturist's eye for detail which belie the fact that they are products of imagination and memory.
After 20 years at Bethlem, in July of 1864, perhaps because Bedlam was overcrowded, Dadd was moved to a new lunatic asylum at Broadmoor, outside London. Here he remained, painting constantly and receiving infrequent visitors until January 7, 1886, when he died, "from an extensive disease of the lungs."
Which condition he suffered from is unclear, but it is usually understood to be a form of schizophrenia. Alternatively, it is sometimes claimed that he suffered from what is now known as bipolar disorder. He appears to have been genetically predisposed to mental illness; two of his siblings were similarly afflicted, while a third had "a private attendant" for unknown reasons.