Richard Dadd

Portrait of a Young Man


Richard Dadd 1817–1886
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 606 × 500 mm
frame: 800 × 695 × 75 mm
Bequeathed by Ian L. Phillips 1984, accessioned 1992

Display caption

This portrait was painted at Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. Dadd was sent there after killing his father, who he believed was possessed by the devil. The identity of the sitter, pictured in an imaginary garden, remains unknown. The sunflower in the painting may refer to the ancient Egyptian god Osiris, who was often associated with the sun. Dadd became fixated on Osiris as his mental health declined. It is now thought he may have had schizophrenia. The red fez hat on the left may be the one Dadd wore when he was travelling in the Middle East, prior to becoming unwell.

Gallery label, May 2019

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Technique and condition

The painting is in drying oil on a light coloured ground. Glue lining has damaged the original surface texture and removed evidence of the original attachment and stretcher. In many areas, e.g. the tree roots (bottom left), detailed pencil drawing is visible through quite thin layers of paint which follow it closely. There appear to be no major alterations or changes in composition during painting.

In general the paint was applied painstakingly with a fine brush having minimum covering power except in the darks which are applied a little more thickly and in the lights which have significant impasto.

Compressed cracks in the lighter areas and cissing in the darks suggest an oil medium with added resin. No analysis has been carried out.

The varnish is a slightly discoloured glossy soft resin which was thinned and revarnished with a modern synthetic varnish in 1973.

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