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An Imprisoned Schizophrenic, Richard Dadd Produced Stunning Works Of Art

19h-century British artist Richard Dadd was on his way to a sensational career when he snapped, murdering his father and fleeing the country. Dadd was captured in France and sent to a mental institution, where he spent the next four decades painting from behind bars. Just like Byran Lewis Sanderson's self-portraits on 30 different drugs, Dadd's art raises questions regarding the connection between an artist's mental state and their work.

When it comes to Victorian painters, Dadd stands out for his dreamlike intensity, his fairies and gardens, and his interest in drawing weapons. In fact, Dadd became a suspect in his father's murder when police uncovered portraits of his friends with their throats slashed. Whether or not Dadd's mental illness led to his creative genius, he is remembered as one of the most important Victorian painters, as well as an artist with a very unique and troubled personal life.

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  • Photo: Richard Dadd / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Dadd Painted Stunning Portraits Of His Doctors And Jailers

    While in prison, Dadd's doctors encouraged him to paint, so many of his works incorporated depictions of the jail's employees. In one 1853 piece, Portrait of a Young Man, Dadd painted his doctor, Charles Hood. The intense image, both dreamlike and surreal, looks nothing like other Victorian-era paintings, in part because Dadd was completely shut off from the outside world.

    For years, Dadd's only audience was his jailers, who came to trust him enough to allow the artist to use knives and work in his own studio. He even painted murals for Broadmoor's entertainment hall. 

  • Photo: Richard Dadd / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Artist Traveled In Egypt But Then Began Acting Strangely

    Before his years in prison, Richard Dadd traveled to the Near East to gather material for his paintings. In 1842, he visited Turkey, Syria, and Egypt, creating paintings based on his experiences. The work earned him a reputation as an important Victorian Orientalist painter. His works included the Caravanserai at Mylasa in Asia Minorwhich Dadd completed in prison.

    However, the travel did more than stir Dadd's artistic abilities. It deeply affected the young man. On his journey home to England, Dadd began acting strangely, and his family began to worry that he was not well. 

  • Photo: Henry Hering / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Dadd Described The Murder 30 Years Later

    Thirty years after murdering his father, Dadd told his doctor that he still wasn't sure he had killed his father—he believed he killed a demon disguised as Robert Dadd. The artist confessed that "he was impelled to kill... by a feeling that some such sacrifice was demanded by the gods and spirits above."

    Dadd recalled that the pair was walking in the park when he stabbed his father suddenly. The son's final words to his father were "Go... and tell the great god Osiris that I have done the deed which is to set him free."

  • Photo: Richard Dadd / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Richard Dadd Drew Portraits Of All His Friends – With Their Throats Slashed

    When the police found the body of Robert Dadd, slashed and stabbed multiple times, they assumed his son Richard had been murdered by the same killer. While Dadd was fleeing to France, the authorities began searching for Richard, whom they feared was hurt.

    Richard quickly became a suspect, however, when the police searched his apartment in London. In Dadd's sketchbook, they found portraits of his friends and acquaintances—each was shown with their throat slashed.