I am finishing a story about the Victorian painter Richard Dadd for A Conspiracy of Shadows, the Book View Cafe all-original steampunk anthology. This is a picture of Richard later in life. My story takes place in 1842, before Richard went . . . quite mad.
Richard Dadd was a Victorian-era painter who was once a very up-and-coming member of the Royal Academy, along with his other friends like Augustus Egg and William Powell Frith. They called themselves “The Clique” and Richard was apparently the leader, or something very like one.
In 1842, Richard got what for a young Victorian man was an excellent invitation: he was asked to travel around the world with Sir Thomas Phillips, a solicitor from Wales who had become a national hero due to putting down a “Chartist” riot. Or rebellion. Or something – using only a copy of the Riot Act between himself and the rabble’s bullets. Shot, but not killed, Sir Thomas set out on a grand world tour. In the days before photographs, an artist, preferably an excellent draughtsman, was needed. For his drawing and painting ability as well as his excellent character and demeanor, Richard Dadd was the one Sir Thomas selected.
It was on this world-wide trip that Richard Dadd – became quite mad. At some point after traveling through the Sinai and taking a cruise on the Nile River, Richard became convinced that he was a disciple of the Egyptian God Osiris. This discipleship was of a murderous nature. He attacked Sir Thomas, considered attacking the Pope during their visit in Rome, and was finally returned home to London, with sunstroke the suspected cause of his strange behavior. After several visits with his friends that didn’t seem all that crazy, Richard’s father retired with him to the countryside. It was there that Richard lured his father into a wood, slashed his throat, and finding that this did not kill him, finished his father off with a knife. Richard then fled across the Channel, but was apprehended after attacking (unsuccessfully) a fellow passenger. Richard was then committed to Bethlem or “Bedlam” Hospital for the Insane.
Richard Dadd is best-known today for his intricate fairy paintings, one of which is extremely famous, the subject of a song by Queen, and may be found in the Tate Museum, called “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke.” Another of his paintings was found on Antiques Roadshow and fetched 100,000 pounds. The Fairy-Feller doesn’t mean “gentleman,” I don’t think. I believe it refers to a fairy worker splitting a chestnut for the Fairy Queen’s carriage. Basically, the thing was expressly made to one day be made into a song by Queen.
Here – you may listen to Queen, and view the painting.
I know rather more about Byron, Shelley, and the rest of them than I knew about Richard Dadd. My impression after reading his letters and William Powell Frith’s commentary was – those fairies were real. And Osiris is not a gentleman I’d care to meet up with in a dark alley at night. No sir. No indeed. I should keep quite away from that fellow, if I had my druthers.