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Auction PR Publicity Announcements News and Information

Bonhams to auction Richard Dadd asylum portrait

A delicate and incisive portrait by one of Britain’s most infamous artists will be on sale at Bonhams 19th Century Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours sale on 11th July, in London.

‘Portrait of Mr. George Bailey’ is a great example of Richard Dadd’s mastery of watercolour. It was painted in the same year as his masterpiece ‘The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke’ in the Tate collection, both painted in 1855, 11 years into his stay at Bethlem Hospital. Estimated at £8,000 – 12,000, the portrait shows one of the staff on the criminally insane wing of that well known asylum.

Dadd is known for murdering his father in Cobham Park and for attempting homicide on a train in France in the mid-nineteenth century. He is still well known today for his intricate fairy paintings, which are both beautiful and disturbing in equal measure.

Dadd was admitted to the State Criminal Lunatic Department of Bethlem Hospital in London on 22nd August 1844. His brief case notes show his rejection of the morals and religion of the day but by the time this was painted his behaviour was defined by an introverted passivity, which led him to produce his most beautiful paintings.
‘Portrait of Mr. George Bailey’ shows fluency and a delicate treatment of the medium that seems to show no trace of the behavioural traits that led to his incarceration. Dadd painted a number of portraits of the staff at Bethlem during his 20 year stay and staff encouraged him to further his talent. They were happy to sit for him, recording his behaviour in case notes:

“He can be a very sensible and agreeable companion and show in conversation a mind once well educated and thoroughly informed in all the particulars of his profession.”

Charles O’Brien, Director of the 19th Century Pictures department commented “Dadd’s tragic story is often remembered for the grim crimes he committed, but this painting sheds light on a sensitive and talented artist. Although he is better known for his extraordinary fairy paintings, it is these simpler and more subtle portrayals of those closest to him, that give us a rounded view of the artist.”