1. Andrew's Collection
  2. Artist Profiles
    1. Stanley Spencer, From Up The Rise
    2. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata
    3. Richard Dadd, Contradiction
Richard Dadd, Contradiction

Richard Dadd, Contradiction

A condensed excerpt from: The Christie’s Sale Catalogue 1992

Richard Dadd, Contradiction Profile

Richard Dadd is a unique phenomenon in British art, perhaps in Western art in general. A fairly late product of the Romantic Movement, he gave a new dimension to Romanticism’s determined pursuit of the irrational. Insane for nearly two thirds of his life, he was able, like a traveller with tales of a fabulous country, to send back reports of his mental terra incognita thanks to the miraculous preservation of his talent under the condition of his madness.

Contradiction, was painted in Bethlem Hospital, Southwark (part of which is now the Imperial War Museum) during the years 1854-8. It saw him return to A Midsummer Night’s Dream as muse, representing Oberon and Titania at the moment of their quarrel over Titania’s refusal to give up here Indian changeling boy to be Oberon’s page.

The prodigality of Dadd’s imagination in this work seems to be inexhaustible, and besides the obvious inventiveness of the design and of the main characters and their costumes, a host of tiny creatures teem through the foreground and background.

Dadd is seen working on the picture in the only known photograph of him in Bethlem (above). The whole design has been laid in, and he is painstakingly completing it, detail by minute detail, from the lower right corner upwards. Evidence of this method is still traceable in some of the larger leaves, where sections painted at different times show slight variations in colour.

Technically the work is an astonishing tour de force. However ‘mad’ Dadd may have been, it certainly in no way confused his drawing or handling of paint; on the contrary, the painting has a positively surreal clarity. It remains in a superb state of preservation, never having been re-lined and still possessing the original oval stretcher seen in the photograph.

Visit Wikipedia for more on Richard Dadd. Visit Bethlem Museum for more information on the hospital.

Text adapted from the Christie’s Sale Catalogue.

Interactive Zoom

This facility requires Java to be installed on your computer. Wait for the picture to load, then click on the image to zoom in and out of the picture: