The Harris Museum recently purchased an important painting by Victorian artist Richard Dadd, ‘Puck’, and on Saturday Feb 18th they held a special day to celebrate the artist’s life and this piece of his work.
The main event of the day was a theatrical presentation depicting Dadd’s imagination and also his mental health problems [he probably suffered from what would be termed bi-polar nowadays and spent the majority of his adult life in the infamous Bedlam and later Broadmoor]. This was performed by the very talented youth company from the Charter Theatre.
The dramatisation opened with some music which conjured up a mystical, medieval atmosphere, before the characters danced and scurried into the gallery. Players depicted Oberon, many fairies and imaginary creatures, two psychiatric doctors and Richard Dadd himself. There were some short excerpts from Midsummer Night’s Dream bafore the artist was almost dragged into the centre stage and discussed by the doctors. He was declared to be disturbed and given medication, whereupon he fell to the ground and was surrounded by creatures from his fantasies who circled round his unconcious body.
We then heard the medical staff arguing, the first stating that as he was a dangerous murderer [during a delusional spell he killed his father] he should be left to his suffering, whilst the second argued for giving him art materials to help him find some peace of mind. The second doctor won the argument, although Dadd wasn’t happy at being supervised. Once a compromise had been reached, the fairy-like characters returned to him and appeared to give him solace.
Other activities included some badge making [which my grandsons both enjoyed], fairy accessory making with a vast array of feathery, furry and glittery materials to choose from, and, for the older visitors, talks by the curator about the painting plus a figure-drawing class by artist Sam Aylwin for budding modern Dadds.
I left with a greater understanding of Richard Dadd and a deeper understanding of the painting itself – one of my personal favourites whenever I visit the Harris. The day was very well planned and enthusiastically staffed, and also an enjoyable introduction to art for my grandsons, aged 5 and 2.