Richard DaddThe Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke 1855-64

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Artwork details

Artist
Richard Dadd (1817‑1886)
Title
The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke
Date 1855-64
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 540 x 394 mm frame: 670 x 525 x 65 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Siegfried Sassoon in memory of his friend and fellow officer Julian Dadd, a great-nephew of the artist, and of his two brothers who gave their lives in the First World War 1963
Reference
T00598
On display at Tate Britain
Room: 1840

Summary

This work, although unfinished, is generally considered to be Dadd's masterpiece. It was painted for H.G. Haydon, an official at Bethlem Hospital, where Dadd was sent after he became insane and murdered his father in 1843. He was transferred to Broadmoor in July 1864, before being able to complete the painting, but he later wrote a long and rambling poem entitled 'Elimination of a Picture & its subject - called The Feller's Master Stroke', which attempts to explain some of the imagery.

With the exception of Shakespeare's Oberon and Titania, who appear in the top half of the picture, the figures are drawn entirely from the artist's imagination. The main focus of the painting is the Fairy Feller himself, who raises his axe in readiness to split a large chestnut which will be used to construct Queen Mabs' new fairy carriage. In the centre of the picture the white-bearded patriarch raises his right hand, commanding the woodsman not to strike a blow until the signal is given. Meanwhile the rest of the fairy band looks on in anticipation, anxious to see whether the woodsman will succeed in splitting the nut with one stroke… (read more)

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