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Funny feller


Ah. This is where I went today. I went to see a Richard Dadd exhibition.

Do you know him? I think the picture above is the only one of him; it’s the only one I’ve ever seen, anyway.

He was born in 1817, the son of a chemist. He showed early promise in art, so he was sent off for a proper art education. It stressed him out. When he was 26, he was walking in the park with his father and, without much warning, turned on the old man and murdered him. Cut his throat.

Dadd spent the rest of his life in the loony bin, first in Bedlam, then in Broadmoor. He never really got better. He had lots and lots of time to paint.

Now, I don’t hold with worshipping artists just because they’re crazy. There are plenty of nutcakes of very indifferent talent. But Dadd really was a very good artist. Highly technically accomplished, though the crazy shines through, even in his early work.

By far his most famous painting is The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke, which is, like, two feet by two feet and so crammed full of beautifully rendered crazy that it is almost always exhibited next to some kind of huge blowup (today, it was next to a slide show of extreme closeups).

I had seen some of his oils before, but this was the first time I’d ever seen his watercolors. Holy shit, they were uniquely beautiful but, well…bugfuck crazy. Made of tiny, tiny, tiny flecks of very pale color. Not at all like pointillism, though. Can’t describe it. Can’t find an example online.

Didn’t buy the show catalogue because it wasn’t a show catalogue, it was just a book about Dadd. Will have to search harder.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 29, 2015, 9:19 pm

Two interesting things I learned from a transcript of his pshrink’s notes today. First, when they caught up with him (he fled after killing his fater), he had portraits of many of his friends he’d drawn…with their throats cut.

Second, he lived out his life with a lot of vile habits. Like, eating until he threw up, then going back to the table for more. The notes didn’t elucidate any more of the foul habits.

Comment from Steamboat McGoo
Time: September 29, 2015, 10:45 pm

Oh, man! The longer you look at that Fairyfeller painting, the more you see! It goes waaaay big and waaay itty-bitty! I like the trumpet-bug, or whatever it is …. and the tiny little Hill-People.

For some reason – probably perverse – this post reminded me of “The Professor and the Madman” by Simon Winchester – about the history of the O.E.D. and – especially – one of its many odd contributors.

Insanity & genius sure do seem to go hand-in-hand.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 29, 2015, 11:02 pm

That was a great book, McGoo. Linky here.

Comment from J.S.Bridges
Time: September 30, 2015, 1:08 am

“The Fairy Feller’s Master Stroke”, indeed…

Dude clearly brought Te Crazy, did he not?

Comment from Nina
Time: September 30, 2015, 2:33 am

Another thumbs up for Winchester’s book. I’ve read it several times, fascinated every time.

I am happy to settle for being above average brainy, but not crazy gifted. I can live with that, and clearly the rest of the world can, too.

Comment from feynmangroupie
Time: September 30, 2015, 6:43 am

I’m always pleased when I can count myself one of such august company. I loved the Prof & the Madman! Another good book is The Poisoner’s Handbook.

Comment from Can’t Hark My Cry
Time: September 30, 2015, 11:22 am

Is there any explanation of the picture? Specifically, does “feller” mean “person who fells,” so the figure at bottom center is maybe holding and about to use a spear? Or does it mean “person/fellow”? Or are we expected to figure that out for ourselves?

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: September 30, 2015, 12:18 pm

Dadd wrote a long, schitzy poem about it, Can’t Hark, but the gist of it is the guy with the axe (the axe head is white and just a bit below and to the right of the center — see it?) is about to split a chestnut in two to make a carriage for Queen Mab.

Comment from Can't Hark My Cry
Time: September 30, 2015, 12:33 pm

Ah! Thank you. I was interpreting the axe head as the butt of a spear, and couldn’t figure out who the spear was aimed at. And–yeah, that is a pretty bizarre poem. Not unsurprisingly!

Comment from Wolfus Aurelius
Time: September 30, 2015, 2:31 pm

Somehow the Fairy Feller painting reminds me of Mardi Gras on a cold rainy Fat Tuesday.

There’s a frightened hobbit-like fellow with a large bald cranium, crouched just to the left of center. Looks like he’s afraid that the hook-nosed dwarf, and the Mad Hatter and Queen just behind him, are going to take it into their heads to lop off his.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: September 30, 2015, 6:46 pm

Note on Winchester: the UK version is called The Surgeon of Crowthorne, Crowthorne being the Berkshire town where Broadmoor loony bin is located, and William Minor having been a military surgeon.

Comment from Rich Rostrom
Time: October 1, 2015, 6:19 pm

Definitely lots of embedded weirdness. Like the woman in white at center left, who has tiny feet and enormous calves, and precisely conical breasts.

Comment from nightfly
Time: October 2, 2015, 2:52 pm

Those are not the eyes of a well person. Gives me the pip.

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