The Madman as Painter

Dalrymple’s column in the Spring 2016 edition of City Journal analyzes the life and work of Richard Dadd (1817-1886) — murderer, madman and brilliant painter. His insanity may have been exacerbated by usage of hashish while traveling through the Middle East. After killing his own father, an act he took to free the spirit of the Egyptian god Osiris whom he thought was inhabiting his father’s body, he was arrested and sent to a psychiatric institution for the remainder of his life. And how well do you think he was treated in a Victorian sanitarium?

In fact, the Victorians come out rather well from the story: not only did they spare his life and not punish him; they also provided him with the wherewithal subsequently to lead a meaningful life and to contribute considerably to his country’s artistic heritage. Of course, he was privileged both because he was educated and talented; most lunatics at the time would not have received such considerate treatment. But the very fact that an appropriate discrimination was made in his case is impressive. I am far from sure that it would be made today.

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