When through Europe, accompanying a former mayor.

When I received the theme of
networks I immediately thought of the complex and vexing web of the human mind,
particularly the imagination and how it reacts to and conjures up fantastical
images. For me personally Fairy tales have always been an area of great
intrigue and are constantly floating around in my imagination. Mythology and
Fairy tales have been popular subjects in art for a vast number of years and
have been utilised by many different artists and explored in many different
ways. Richard Dadd was an extremely popular artist in the Victorian Era, who
created vast and busy Fairy paintings, a feast for the eyes of his audience. He
was a most brilliant artist, and his personal life was just as captivating as
his art works. In this essay I will carry out research and exploration into
Dadd’s life as well as analysis of some of his works. I will also compare the
Dadd’s work to that of the contemporary fairy tale illustrator Kate Cosgrove. Obviously
these are two different artists working in two very different times and
appealing to two very different audiences however, they are both ultimately
responding to the same fantastical theme. And so, I hope to draw a meaningful
conclusion from how their varying aims have affected how they approached the
topic.

Richard Dadd is an English
artist, born in Kent and educated at King’s School in Rochester where his
talent for drawing caught peoples attention at a very early age. He later
founded a group of English artists, referred to as “The Clique”, who shared a
view that art should be valued and judged by the public and not by its “conformity
to academic ideals” which placed a heavy weighting on fact, history and
tradition being portrayed in artwork. He was a most popular artist of the time,
winning awards and being viewed as the leading talent of “The Clique”, his life
was on track. However, In July 1842 Dadd embarked on an expedition through
Europe, accompanying a former mayor. Nearing the end of December 1842, the two
were travelling up the Nile
by boat as Dadd underwent a stark personality change, growing delusional, becoming
increasingly violent and even believed he was under the influence of an
Egyptian god. Dadd’s condition was initially thought to be sunstroke
but now it is thought that he likely suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. Upon
his return home in 1843, he was diagnosed to be of unsound mind and entrusted
to his family who took him to recover in a countryside village in Kent. Not
long after, in the summer of the same year, Dadd’s condition escalated and
having become convinced that his father was “the Devil in disguise” he
killed him with a knife and fled to France. However, on his way to Paris, Dadd
attempted to murder another tourist and was arrested by police and later
confessed to killing his father. He was brought back to England and was
committed to Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital, also known
as “Bedlam”. After 20 years there, Dadd was moved to a high security facility
outside London where he remained until his death in 1886.

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540 x 394 mm

 

During his time
spent in the Bethlem and Broadmoor asylums Dadd was encouraged to carry on
painting which ultimately led to him creating many of his masterpieces in these
places. In fact “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke”
(see below) which Dadd began working on in 1855 was painted for H.G. Haydon, a
hospital official at ‘Bedlam’. This oil painting, although unfinished due to
his relocation to Broadmoor, is widely considered Dadd’s greatest masterpiece
and it is obvious why. Upon first glance at this piece, it is immediately apparent
that the detail is so vast it is hard to comprehend all it contains, especially
given the small scale of the piece. Fortunately for us, Dadd later wrote a poem
entitled ‘Elimination of a Picture & its subject – called The Feller’s Master
Stroke’. It is long and tedious but ultimately was a great help to critics when
trying to analyse the piece. Almost all of the characters presented in the
painting were derived wholly from the artist’s own imagination. This leads me
to the heart of my project as I have attempted to convey well known fairy-tale
characters, that have been planted in my mind since I was a young child, in an
artistic way, as Dadd

does with his own
character creations. The only contradiction in this piece is Dadd’s inclusion of
Shakespeare characters Oberon and Titania, just above the centre of the
painting.

This was not the only time Dadd explored these two Shakespearean
characters as they were the focus of another piece entitled “Contradiction:
Oberon and Titania” which depicts Act II, Scene I of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer
Night’s Dream”. The image below shows Dadd working on this piece while being
held in Bethlam Asylum. He was photographed by Henry Hering who often catches
his subjects eyes fixed in a “peculiar, unfocused stare”, which has a
particularly striking impact here given all we know about Dadd’s history.

In 1987 a long-lost watercolour by Dadd, The
Artist’s Halt in the Desert, was discovered by Peter Nahum on the BBC TV
programme Antiques Roadshow. Made while the artist was incarcerated, it is
based on sketches made during his tour of the Middle East, and shows his party encamped
by the Dead Sea, with Dadd at the
far right.  It was later sold for
£100,000 to the British Museum.

  

Kate Cosgrove is a modern artist and illustrator from
Michigan who received the Barbara Deming Grant in 2016, a memorial fund founded
in 1975 to provide financial support for creative women, and the Arts Council
Individual Artist Grant in 2011 for her art show, ‘Animal ArtVenture’. Cosgrove’s
work has been exhibited in galleries across the globe, including the United
States, Canada, England, Australia and France.