Richard Dadd

The Corn Market, Beirut, 1842


In 1842, Richard Dadd (1817–1886) was hired by the solicitor, Sir Thomas Philips, to accompany him on a tour of Europe and the Middle East and document the trip. Philips was in a hurry to get the tour done, and Dadd was frustrated at the breakneck speed with which they were moving along their route. He was restricted to making quick sketches and was unable to generate nuanced observations about the places he visited. In Egypt, Dadd’s behaviour became increasingly erratic, and on the final leg of the journey in Italy, he began seeing things in Florentine frescos that weren’t there. In Paris, he became delusional and fled by horse to England. His family and peers were openly concerned about him and he became paranoid, luring his father to a park and killing him as a sacrifice to Osiris. Again he fled, but was arrested in France after attempting to cut a tourist’s throat.

Dadd was incarcerated for the rest of his life – in Bethlam and Broadmore – but was allowed to paint, his output consisting of landscapes occupied by fairies and watercolours of his journeys made from memory. The Corn Market, Beirut (1842) was sketched onsite during the Syrian leg of the tour, and completed in watercolour back in England. It straddles Dadd’s two lives, being born during his travels and evolving in tandem with his condition. His descent into ‘madness’ does not seem to be reflected in the object itself, and manifests only very subtly in the other works he produced during his incarceration.

Exhibited in:

Loaned by:


The Tetley, Leeds (24 Sept 2019 → 19 Jan 2020)

The Whitworth Art Gallery

Oxford Road, Manchester