Some London Historians arranged to meet for lunch today in Twickenham and then venture to the nearby Orleans House Gallery to see the Richard Dadd (1817 – 1886) exhibition, which runs until 2 October. It’s just a 20 minute drive for me, so I took the bold step of inviting myself along.
Despite the proximity to London Historians Towers, I had never been to this gallery, which nestles in a leafly off-the-beaten-track spot adjacent to Eel Pie Island. I shall certainly go again, perhaps even to the Dadd exhibition: I had to do a speed tour due to my parking running out of time.
Dadd. Fairly well known Victorian painter, certainly highly rated by contemporaries. If you’re unfamiliar, he was extremely mentally disturbed, spending most his life from his late 20s incarcerated in the Bethlem Hospital (aka Bedlam, then in St Georges Fields, Southwark; the building is now the Imperial War Museum), followed by the newly-built Broadmoor in Crowthorne, Berks. It was during a tour of Europe and the Near East in 1842-43 that Dadd suffered some sort of mental breakdown while in Egypt, believing himself to be the Egyptian god Osiris. On returning to England, the now utterly paranoid artist lured his father into a local park and murdered him with a knife. Dadd fled to Paris but was soon extradited. At his trial in 1844 it became immediately apparent that he was insane and instead of an appointment with the gallows, Dadd was institutionalised.
At both Bedlam and Broadmoor, Richard Dadd continued to paint, steadily if not especially prolifically. Represented here at the downstairs section of the exhibition are mainly figurative watercolours of medieval flavour, the theme being illustrations of the Passions: Grief, Pain, Sorrow, Brutality, etc. Upstairs we have items from the Broadmoor period which fall into two groups: glass panels whereby images have been created by scraping away a coating of white residue; and oil on canvas panels created for theatrical productions inside the institution. Once again, the themes if not the style are firmly late-Medieval.
There is also a small selection of paintings – mainly portraits – that Dadd made before his mental illness set in.
Before today, my only acquaintance with Dadd was his basic story outlined above, the only photograph taken of him in the 1850s (a bit scary) and what is considered his masterpiece, Contraditions: Oberon and Titania (not on show, unfortunately). So it was good to be able to see a large body of his work in the round, so to speak, some pieces of which are excellent, others less so. One has to imagine that his state of mind on given days must have affected his ability to a certain extent, but on a positive note, I’d like to think that painting had a certain positive therapeutic effect on this tortured soul.