Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Dadd, Richard

(1817-1886) UK painter who murdered his father in 1843 and was committed to Bedlam (and later Broadmoor), eventually dying insane. His considerable posthumous fame is particularly for the distressed, nightmarish, hothouse Gothic Romanticism of works like "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" (1855-1864), an enormously complicated, tapestry-like portrayal of an engorged Landscape within which a cross-section of the denizens of Faerie seem caught in Bondage. Contradictions of Perception pervade this work; the whole canvas seems to hover at the edge of an explosive Trompe-L'oeil; but there is none in view. Instead, centrally located, the "Fairy Feller" seems about to engage in some paroxysm of Thinning – for certainly he is being viewed with deep apprehension by those who notice him at all, and his axe is ready to prune, to demolish, the elaborate sward. Most remarkably, the painting seems to represent a model of a central initiating narrative movement of Fantasy – an overpowering sense of dislocation, of a Labyrinth of Wrongness pointing the viewer towards a resolution, some way through the maze into an Otherworld, some freeing stroke. But ultimately the Faerie RD depicts is entrapped, for there is no Recognition here, and any blow of the axe will bring not transcendence but death; "The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke" can thus be seen as a consummate visual pun in which fantasy wears Horror's frozen face.

A suite of sketches assembled as To Illustrate the Passion (1853-1854) is also of interest, especially the portrait of Cain and Abel. [JC]

Richard Dadd


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.