The most brilliant young artist of his generation, Richard Dadd (1817-1886) made his name with a sequence of minutely executed fairy paintings of huge imaginative power. Following a long tour of the Middle East in the early 1840s he succumbed to a psychotic illness, murdered his father, and fled to France where he was apprehended by police and judged to have become insane. After being returned to England, Dadd spent over forty years in Britain's most famous lunatic asylums, Bethlem Hospital and Broadmoor, never ceasing to work as an artist.
Interpretations of Dadd's art have been coloured by Romantic notions of creativity and madness, by enthusiasm for Outsider Art, and by the ideas of Michel Foucault and the anti- psychiatry movement of the 1960s and 1970s. In the first full account of Dadd's life and career, the author examines Dadd's artistic legacy and uses his case to investigate the encounter between art and the treatment of mental illness in the nineteenth century. In the enclosed world of the asylum, Dadd's doctors were both his custodians and his patrons, while the legends of modern medicine became part of the larger mythological systems that informed the artist's work.
The public appetite for Dadd's bewitching art has never been greater, and this long- overdue reassessment provides a vivid account of one of the most fascinating artists of the Victorian era.
Nicholas Tromans is Senior Lecturer at Kingston University, London. He is the editor of The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting and has published widely on art of the nineteenth century.
For all the right reasons, his biographer Nicholas Tromans is determined to shy away from psychological speculation … Tromans is determined not to find signs of mental illness where none exists.
Mail on Sunday
Tromans’s readings of the paintings are subtle and astute, but what really distinguishes his book is the close attention paid to the relationship between the artist and his minders … Richard Dadd: The Artist and the Asylum is a troubling feast for the eye.
A witty and insightful account of the extraordinary life of Richard Dadd.
Without sensationalising Dadd's crime, Tromans intelligently explores the context to his patricide.
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