Talent and tragedy: Richard Dadd's asylum portrait at Bonhams

19th Century Paintings, Drawings and Watercolours
11 Jul 2012
London, New Bond Street

Masterful watercolour shows calm side of criminal mind

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."


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

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