Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information
Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Bonhams To Sell Painting Mirroring Troubled Artists Brutal Axe Murder Of His Father

A painting portraying the murder of Richard II by the ill-fated artist Richard Dadd (British, 1817-1886) will be sold in Bonhams Victorian Paintings sale on 2 April 2008, New Bond Street, London. Dadd, who famously murdered his father, painted the watercolour whilst confined in Bethlem lunatic asylum. The scene is taken from the final act in Shakespeare’s Richard II and shows the King about to be murdered with an axe, the same weapon Dadd used to kill his father. It is estimated to fetch £15,000-20,000.

The scene to be sold by Bonhams is one of the most violent in Dadd’s oeuvre whose work was in the main surprisingly tranquil, given his troubled past. Aged just 26, and having already received critical acclaim, Dadd was diagnosed to be of unsound mind, believing that he was under the power of the Egyptian God Osiris and that he was being persecuted by the devil. He became convinced that one of these devils was his own father and in August 1843 he brutally attacked and murdered him with an axe. Dadd then fled for France and was arrested en route to Paris when he tried to murder a tourist with a razor. On his return to England he was certified insane – he probably suffered from schizophrenia – and was admitted to Bethlem lunatic asylum, also known as Bedlam. Although Dadd spent the rest of his life in confinement, he was allowed to paint and it was here that he produced most of his masterpieces.

The watercolour, which depicts the final moments of Richard II, was painted in 1852, eight years into Dadd’s 42-year confinement. Richard, who had been imprisoned in Pontefract Castle, stands in the forefront of the painting, sword poised, ready to slay one of his attackers. Behind him Sir Pierce of Exton, an ambitious nobleman, wields an axe above his head about to deliver the fatal blow.

The similarities between the scene Dadd painted and his own horrendous experience can not have been lost on the artist In Shakespeare’s play Richard warns Exton before dying that the hand that struck him “shall burn in never-quenching fire”, sentiments that Dadd may well have shared. Exton’s obvious regret as the dead King lies at his feet must have been particularly poignant for the imprisoned Dadd:

“For now the devil, that told me I did well, Says that this deed is chronicled in Hell”