Filed under: Art
We recently visited Yayoi Kusama retrospective at Tate Modern.
Kusama is perhaps Japan’s best-known living artist. Now in her ninth decade her body or work stretches back to the 1940s and encompasses painting, sculpture, drawing and collage. She is best known for immersive large-scale installations.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s she became a well-known figure in the New York avant-garde, returning to Japan in 1973. Since 1977 she has lived voluntarily in a psychiatric institution and much of her work is marked by obsessiveness and a desire to escape psychological trauma. Her installations are an attempt to share her experiences with endless dots and infinitely mirrored space.
Richard Dadd (1 August 1817 – 7 January 1886) was an English painter of the Victorian era. Following a long tour of the Middle East in the early 1840s he succumbed to a schizophrenia-type illness, following which he murdered his father and fled to France where he attacked another traveller. After his return to England he spent over forty years in the Bethlem and Broadmoor, during which period most of the works for which he is best known were created.
Dadd’s painting The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke is featured on the cover of a recent British Journal of Psychiatry. Nicholas Tromans, a Senior Lecturer at London’s Kingston University, is widely published on the subject of 19th century art and is author of Richard Dadd: the Artist and the Asylum. He came to talk to us about Dadd’s life and mental illness:
AoP: As a young man, how did Dadd go about establishing himself as a painter in London?
NT: It seems that Richard owed a great deal to his father, who had been a high-street chemist in Kent but who, when Richard was a teenager, took over a gilding business in central London which must have had many professional artists among its clients. Dadd’s own beginnings as a professional artist were really entirely conventional. He became a student at the Royal Academy (virtually next door to his father’s shop) and made studies after the sculptures at the British Museum. He appears to have been extraordinarily self-confident, and was soon sending his pictures to exhibitions in London and in places like Birmingham and Manchester. He managed to attract the patronage of both London aristocrats and the self-made men of the industrial cities – as well as the support of some influential critics. By the time he left for his tour of the East in 1842 he was one of the risng stars of the London art scene.
AoP: What do we know about how and why he killed his father?
NT: Towards the end of his tour of the Mediterranean, in the Spring of 1843, Richard began to suffer from delusions – that there were people trying to harm him, perhaps that he could see the devil in human forms. Many of those who had known him were worried by his unusual behaviour after his return to London, and his father consulted a psychiatrist at St Luke’s – Alexander Sutherland – who recommended hospitalisation. Possibly in response to this suggestion, Richard carefully planned a knife attack on his father, which succeeded in killing him. Richard was soon afterwards arrested and eventually sent to Bethlem Hospital in Lambeth. Later Dadd explained that the killing had been required of him by the Ancient Egyptian god of the dead, Osiris, and that although Richard approved of the destruction of the imposter who claimed to be his father, he was in effect only an instrument in the hands of the deity. It was a fantastic delusion, but one in keeping with Richard’s larger set of beliefs about the continuing truth and relevance of the philosophies of ancient cultures.
AoP: What do we know about how he was as a patient?
With regard to his time at Bethlem (1844-64) – not a lot. There are really only two entries in his casenotes, and the first of these dates from as late as 1854. This entry describes how violent Dadd was considered when first admitted, and how he would suddenly strike another patient without provocation (and then immediately apologise). The formal designation of ‘dangerous’ was applied to Dadd even during the last years of his time at Bethlem. I infer from the lack of detail in the notes, however, that he was by and large not an especially troublesome patient – not one who required strategies to manage. That he painted ambitious pictures for the two senior managers of Bethlem – paintings which he worked on for years – suggests some kind of relationship between patient and staff, although certainly not an uncomplicatedly collaborative one.
AoP: Why was he transferred to Broadmoor?
Dadd was admitted to Bethlem as a Criminal Lunatic – someone too unwell to be punished for a crime, or (from the 1840s) one too unwell to stand trial at all. This meant being placed in a special wing of the hospital in very cramped, minimally furnished, high-security conditions. It was obvious to the authorities that something needed to be done with this novel legal category of prisoner/patient, and a dedicated new hospital was made possible by an Act of Parliament in the early 1860s. This was to be Broadmoor near Reading, to which Dadd was transferred along with his fellow male Criminal Lunatics, in 1864, and where he died and is buried. There were those – among them the Superintendent of Bethlem – who feared that gathering together these cases out in the countryside would produce “a bastile of lunacy”, feared and resented by the public. These critics were to be proved at least partly right, but for Dadd the change brought improvements. By any common-sense criteria of well-being, his life got better: he was able to see more, to move about more; he took an interest in cricket and chess; and the range of media in which he himself worked expanded.
AoP: How has Dadd’s legacy been regarded after his death?
Dadd’s meticulous watercolours never entirely went off the radar of the art market. Collectors were able to buy them as they left Bethlem and Broadmoor by one route or another. The V&A and the British Museum both acquired watercolours by Dadd while he was still living at Broadmoor. But after his death there were really only a series of false starts when it came to retrieving his biography and reconstructing his oeuvre. Various people had a go, but there was just too little to go on. Things changed only in the 1960s when the Fairy Feller arrived at the Tate and when Bethlem acquired a dynamic and imaginative archivist who was in a position to become Dadd’s first proper biographer. This all coincided of course with the passionate debates generated by the so-called anti-psychiatry movement, and Dadd – in the guise of heroic ‘survivor’ of the Victorian asylum – seemed suddenly of acute cultural significance. Interest in him has calmed down since. As I say in the preface to my own book on Dadd, I have not tried to resurrect him as a hero of any kind: I have tried to understand him as a wonderful artist – one of the most exciting of the Victorian age in my opinion – who happened to spend his career in unusual circumstances.
AoP: Despite his situation, Dadd’s pictures seem untouched by the content of his delusion and he never addressed asylum life in paint. Can you reflect on this?”
Well, “sane” Victorian artists rarely painted the streets on which they lived, or pictures which sought to sum up their philosophies of history. They were typically more interested in the same kinds of things on which Dadd remained fixed, that is, the topography of exotic places filtered through the memory, portraits, and illustrations to literature. Dadd had never been a Realist — on the contrary he was from the start of his career a painter of poetic imagination. And in any case, one reason for spending so much time thinking back, visually, over his time abroad in the early 1840s must surely have been a need to escape from the very limited environment in which he had to live.
AoP: And where can interested people see Dadd’s stuff?
NT: Not a lot of oil paintings in public collections (the watercolours can only be shown periodically of course because of their vulnerability to light).
The Scottish National Portrait Gallery have Dadd’s wonderful portrait of Dr. Alexander Morison:
Tate Britain Dadd collection
And just last year, the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston acquired the early fairy subject Puck which had been in a Preston collection in the nineteenth century
The best place to head is however Bethlem Hospital itself where a substantial number of Dadd’s works can be seen in a context which helps make sense of them.
A small collection of Richard Dadd’s paintings is being exhibited Feb – April 2012 in the Bethlem Hospital museum – details.
This clip of a Richard Dadd painting being discovered on Antiques Roadshow is worth a watch (starts at 4:24)
Richard Dadd: Masterpieces of the asylum Independent 2011
Richard Dadd: Madness and Beauty Telegraph 2008
Filed under: Art
Dr Sarvenaz Keyhani has kindly allowed this site to display more of her artwork.
The three fates is oil on canvas size approximately 60 by 90 cm. It is based on the Greek myth of three goddess of fate: One weaves the thread of human life, the second measures it, and the third cuts it when someone dies. The Greeks believed even the gods couldn’t run away the fates and their destiny.
Sitting woman is a life drawing using white chalk on black paper. It was drawn at a class at the London school of painting and drawing
This is one of the artist’s favourite paintings, Age of innocence and was painted after watching a movie 1-2 years ago. It’s chalk pastel on black paper and the colours limited to blue and light purple. This is one of the series of blue paintings.
The sleeping girl with a doll is a charcoal on paper drawing from 2000, when the artist was doing pre-internship in paediatrics in Tehran.
Filed under: Art
Dr Sarvenaz Keyhani is a psychiatrist working in general adult psychiatry in London. As well as a psychiatrist she is an artist and has been featured in the British Journal of Psychiatry.
Dr Keyhani has kindly allowed this blog to publish some of her works with her own captions. If you click on a picture this will take you to an enlarged image.
“Before the meeting was published in British Journal of Psychiatry in April 2011, and is a scene from a psychiatry meeting I attended during my training in Wessex deanery and is chalk pastel on coloured paper.”
“Melancholia is done in oil, black and white with the only dark purple in small areas of the painting. I did this painting in 2004-2005, 60 in 80 cm; the figure has cornered herself in the painting, wrapped in her own world as most of the depressed people would do. I didn’t have model for this painting.”
“Silent cry was done in 2001, 60 cm in 90 cm; it took few months to finish the painting. It’s in oil paint, showing a scene of disaster, figures shouting and screaming but no one can hear them. Goya is one of my favourite painters and I love his paintings especially ‘The 3th of May’ showing execution of Spanish rebels by the French army and how timeless that painting is. Similary, I have omitted the clothing for my people in this painting, so they can belong to any time and any disaster showing the horrors of wars.”
“Theseus and the Amazons is based on Greek mythology of a series of drawings I did on Greek Myths, all white chalk on black paper. I feel this gives more intensity than traditional black coal on white paper. The scene is taken from story of Theseus when he meets Antiope, the Queen of the Amazons; he has come to woo her, however other Amazons are suspicious of him and warning Antiope who doesn’t seem to listen.”
“View of Amsterdam is a drawing with black ink, from when I went to Amsterdam in 2004. I was very impressed with the canals there, and people riding bicycles. Drawing is a separate art to painting, and no longer considered a preliminary sketch for a painting, as one can always put a lot of spontaniety in a drawing with quick lines and impressions.”