A Victorian portrait painted at Bethlem Hospital will be exhibited in the same building | Art
A portrait painted by an acclaimed Victorian artist when he was a long-term psychiatric patient has returned to the hospital where he spent 20 years, which is now a museum.
Richard Dadd was sent to Bethlem Royal Hospital in South London, better known as Bedlam, as a “mad felon” after stabbing his father to death in 1843. He was later transferred to Broadmoor, where he remained until his death in 1886.
He painted Portrait of a Young Man 10 years after arriving in Bethlem. The identity of the sitter is unknown, but it is thought to be either another patient or Dr. William Hood, the hospital’s superintendent physician, who encouraged Dad to continue painting. The sitter is painted in a fantasy garden.
The work was loaned by the Tate to the Bethlem Museum of the Mind, where it will be displayed alongside an 1857 photographic portrait showing Dadd painting in Bethlem. The exhibit, The Faces We Show, opens next month.
In the early years of his artistic life, Dadd was recognized as one of the great talents of his generation. He studied at the Royal Academy and attracted wealthy patrons. He became well known for his depictions of fairies and for painting fantastical scenes.
One of his best-known works, The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke, also painted in Bethlem and now owned by the Tate, inspired rock star Freddie Mercury to write a song of the same name which was recorded by Queen in 1974 .
Dad’s mental health began to deteriorate while on tour in the Middle East in 1842. He suffered from delusions and shortly after returning to Kent he killed his father, believing him to be the devil .
His delusions continued in Bethlem, the oldest psychiatric hospital in the world, but he was given painting materials and space to work.
According to Jonathan Jones, art critic for the Guardian, “Far from the brutal places that tortured him, Victorian asylums gave Dadd a special freedom from his time. The pure personal vision that his illness triggered will always make him one of the most captivating British artists of the 19th century.
Portrait of a Young Man will return to Bethlem for the first time in 170 years for an exhibition of portraits and self-portraits of people living with mental illness. The exhibition is a collaboration between the Bethlem Museum of the Mind and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.
Colin Gale, the director of the Bethlem Museum of the Mind, said: “Every day, human beings present public faces that mask the tumultuous feelings bubbling beneath the surface.
“Mental health issues are experienced by large numbers of people and across all sectors of society and there is no clear cut distinction between users and providers of mental health services. In some cases, the clinician and the patient may be the same person.
“Many of those whose perspectives are represented here are, of course, artists, but they are also brothers, sisters, parents, friends and much more. Each is more than the sum of its different roles.
The Faces We Present is at the Bethlem Museum of the Mind, February 22 to June 17. Free entry.