Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Art of Bedlam:Richard Dadd

I was one of the first day visitors to Bethlem Museum of the Mind which hosts this exhibition from 7 November 2015 until 6 February 2016 (closed 23 December reopens 2 January 2016). During the exhibition two companion talks are to be held and on 7 November Bethlem Archivist Colin Gale  introduced visitors to "A very sensible and agreeable companion: Richard Dadd the Bethlem patient".

The exhibition includes sketches and paintings which form part of the Bethlem archives and other material held in other collections. The substantial Bethlem collection has been on loan to the Watts Gallery Compton and Doctor Nicholas Tromans curates the Bethlem Museum exhibition and will  give a companion talk on Saturday 5 December 2015 about Dadd the artist.
Colin Gale placed Dadd's 20 year detention on the Criminal Lunatic Ward of Bethlem in the historical context of the Hospital of the nineteenth century.
We owe an enormous debt to Patricia Allderidge who was Archivist at Bethlem until retirement in 2003. Her study of the art collection lead to her curating a Tate exhibition in 1974 and writing a book about Dadd.It was her vision which lead to the creation of the 21st century Museum of the Mind and gallery for exhibitions such as this one and Colin  paid tribute to her work,
Dadd was a rising star as a Royal Academy trained artist and the exhibits reflect his great ability, However he came back from a tour of the Middle East and acting under the influence of a compulsion born of a powerful delusion that he was the agent of the Egyptian god Osiris engaged in battle with the Devil who had assumed the appearance of his own father stabbed his father to death in one of the most famous cases of Victorian murder.
Colin detailed the sympathy for Dadd which was evident from the outset drawing upon upon letters from his brother to Royal Academicians and the sympathetic treatment by Hospital staff and by the Victorian press.
His case notes form part of the exhibition and whilst the "Moral Management" of patients detained at Her Majesty's Pleasure offered him every assistance to paint his mental state was always questionable with Hood in 1854 describing his lack of insight into his behaviour but then contrasting that with the "sensible and agreeable companion" which formed this talk's title.
The exhibition attracted many visitors on its opening day and is open Wednesdays to Fridays Museum of the Mind events
I have long appreciated Dadd's art and as a visitor to Bethlem Archive in the 1970's was probably enthused by Patricia Allderidge following her Tate exhibition and book. Dadd is now recognised as a leading British Artist but one wonders if this would have been the case without Patricia's dedication to the material she curated as an archivist.
Currently the Bethlem Gallery has an interesting exhibition Unescorted #6 featuring the work of Interim Secure Unit patients.
The unification of two galleris in the same building together with the permanent Museum exhibits make for a very interesting visit.