Home » Exhibitions » The Art of Bedlam: Richard Dadd at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind – 7th November 2015 to 6th February 2016

The Art of Bedlam: Richard Dadd at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind – 7th November 2015 to 6th February 2016


Richard Dadd at his easel, 1850s

Richard Dadd painting ‘Contradiction’ c.1857 ©Bethlem Museum of the Mind

A major exhibition of the work of one of Britain’s finest Victorian artists opens this November. The Art of Bedlam: Richard Dadd features a collection of Dadd’s celebrated paintings, as well as rarely-seen sketches and letters from the artist, the exhibition will takes place at Bethlem Museum of the Mind, a pioneering new gallery and museum at the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, Bethlem Royal Hospital. Much of Dadd’s work were made during the twenty years when he was a patient at Bethlem.

LDBTH196-Self Portrait (1841)

Richard Dadd, Self-Portrait 1841 ©Bethlem Museum of the Mind

Richard Dadd was recognised for his artistic talents at an early age and eventually became a student at the Royal Academy of Arts. He associated with other leading artists of the day including William Powell Frith, Augustus Egg and Henry O’Neil. His early works included illustrations for books, in 1842 he was asked to join an expedition to the Middle East. It was towards the end of the expedition that Dadd underwent a dramatic personality change becoming delusional and increasingly violent.

Richard Dadd. Portrait studies of figures in Eastern Costume (1842). Pen, brown ink, watercolour and gum Arabic. Winchester College

Portrait studies of figures in Eastern Costume (1842) (Winchester College)

Soon after he returned home, he killed his father with a knife. Dadd was eventually apprehended and arrested in France and bought back to England and detained at Bethlem. Whilst at Bethlem, and later at Broadmoor Hospital, Dadd was encouraged to paint has a means to deal with and understand his symptoms. One of the
highlights of the exhibition is Puck, an oil painting with Shakespeare’s fairy from A Midsummer Night’s Dream which was exhibited in London in 1841. In the 20 years, Dadd was in  Bethlem (1844-64), he created a series of watercolours inspired by his eastern travels, he also painted a series of watercolours illustrating ‘The Passions’.  Dadd’s Passions, all painted in the 1850s, include Agony – Raving Madness, Insignificance – or Self-Contempt, Grief or Sorrow and Patriotism.

LDBTH198-Sketch to Illustrate the Passions - Agony - Raving Madness (1854)

Agony – Raving Madness, 1854  ©Bethlem Museum of the Mind

In the 1860s, Dadd moved to the newly-built Broadmoor, a dedicated asylum for  men and women and continued to paint for the next 20 years. Among the paintings on display from this period are watercolour landscape The Crooked Path (1866) and recently discovered and beautifully preserved A Lady with a Minstrel (1874).

LDBTH199-Sketch to Illustrate the Passions - Insignificance or Self-Contempt (1854) a

 Insignificance or Self-Contempt, 1854 ©Bethlem Museum of the Mind

The exhibition explores in detail, Dadd’s most famous work, the extraordinary The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke (1855-64).  The painting was created over the course of nine years and was painted for George Haydon, the Steward of Bethlem Hospital, for whom Dadd also wrote a poem of explanation in 1865, which will be shown in the exhibition, alongside a large-scale investigation of the themes and details of the painting.

This exhibition offers an opportunity to gain some insights into one of the most interesting Victorian artists whose strong connections with Bethlem provides access to rarely seen documents and drawings.

The Bethlem Royal Hospital is a hospital in London for the treatment of mental illness, it has a remarkable history and is considered Europe’s first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illnesses. Originally based near the City of London and then St George’s Fields in Southwark, it moved to its current location in 1930. The Bethlem Gallery, established 1997, is situated on the grounds of The Bethlem Royal Hospital and is managed by a small, artist-led team who often have collaborations with Bethlem Museum of the Mind.

Visitor Information

Bethlem Gallery and Museum of the Mind
Address: Bethlem Royal Hospital, Monks Orchard Road, Beckenham, Kent, BR3 3BX.
Admission: Free to all visitors
Exhibition dates: 7 November 2015 – 6 February 2016.
Opening hours: Wednesday-Friday 10am-5pm. Saturday 10am-5pm (first and last Saturday of each month). Monday & Tuesday 10am-5pm (pre-booked groups only). Closed Sunday and public holidays.Travel: Nearest British Rail: Eden Park / East Croydon

If you are interested in attending the exhibition, find more information here

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