Richard Dadd and the Art of the Criminally Insane
Richard Dadd, known for one of his works The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, was institutionalized in 1843 for the murder of his father and the attempted murder of another person as he fled the area. The murder occurred following an excursion through Egypt where Dadd was noted to have express delusional and wild behavior by the end. He was believed to be schizophrenic, labeled as a “criminal lunatic”, and spent the subsequent years of his life in two psychiatric hospitals, and later told his caretakers that he was inspired to commit the murder by Egyptian deities. While hospitalized, he was still commissioned for his art and has been highly praised by many for his creations. His doctors had him create portraits, others continued to push him to produce more work, and he even designed art for the asylum’s walls. His creativity was fostered during these years and he was even given space as a studio in the second asylum he was held at. His doctors believed his work to show no explicit sign of insanity, and he was well provided in terms of the tools he needed and was given knives to complete certain works.
The painting of The Fairy Feller is chaotic in nature and very detailed, as most of the figures depicted are very small and crowd the scene. In the center a man holds an axe high above his head presumably moments away from letting it split the one of the objects scattered on the ground surrounding him, meanwhile some of the other characters seem to be engrossed with his forthcoming action. This image is from a perspective that seems disconnected from the events depicted and the vantage point of the audience is far behind thin branches and undergrowth. There has been speculation by some that this image of a man wielding an axe mid-stroke is a reference to the murder of his father.
His work today can be found in British museums, and has been highly regarded since the 1960’s when the art academy he had studied at finally began to appreciate his creations as contemporary art. The band Queen references his art in one of their song titles, and other creatives have used his art as a part of plot and as inspiration in general. Despite his mental health issues and his murder conviction, Dadd remains highly respected as a creative influence, and his story provides preliminary insight regarding the connection between artistic capabilities, mental illness, and violence.