Portrait of Mr. George Bailey signed, inscribed and dated 'Sketch of Mr. Geo. Bailey/by Richd Dadd. August 13th 1855/Bethlehem Hospital London' (lower left) watercolour 25.5 x 17.5cm (10 1/16 x 6 7/8in).
Richard Dadd (1817-1886) was admitted to the State Criminal Lunatic Department of Bethlem Hospital, London on 22nd August 1844. He was there at the behest of the Home Office, as a prisoner who was criminally insane, rather than as a patient. He had famously committed patricide in Cobham Park and attempted homicide on a train in France, before being arrested by French authorities. By the time he painted the present lot in 1855, he was 11 years into his 20 year stay at Bethlem before he was transferred to Broadmoor asylum. It was during this time he seems to have settled into a working routine that saw him produce his most famous paintings. The year this lot was produced, 1855, is interesting because it was the year he started his well known masterpiece The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, which is still such a popular attraction at Tate Britain.
The present lot is not the only example of Dadd painting portraits of the staff at Bethlem. There is a similar portrait of the warder John McDonald in the Bethlem Royal Hospital collection which uses his 'stipple' technique. There is also an oil portrait of a Broadmoor officer painted in 1875 within the same collection. In the present lot he uses the wash technique of his youth that he also employed in his other long running project of the same period, the Passions. It displays his natural facility with watercolour, that had made him such a promising young artist before he committed his crimes. It is also a strong riposte against the school of thought that attempts to read Dadd's lifestory into every picture and projects an agenda onto his paintings. This watercolour is an example of a great talent showing fluency and mastery of a medium. Unlike his more famous fairy paintings, where onlookers can choose to interpret each detail, this picture shows more direct handling in a traditional manner.
Nothing is known about George Bailey other than that he was formally employed by Bethlem during this period. The fact that he and others sat for Dadd is evidence that by this time he was calm and they were happy to encourage his talents. The behaviour they would have encountered is recorded in his official Bethlem case notes, 'he can be a very sensible and agreeable companion, and shew[sic] in conversation, a mind once well educated and thoroughly informed in all the particulars of his profession in which he still shines and would it is thought have pre-eminently excelled had circumstances not opposed.'1
Dadd's story is one of talent colliding with disturbing tragedy. This watercolour is more a reminder of the former than a symbol of the latter.