Richard Dadd, Contradiction. Oberon and Titania (1854-58)

Oil on canvas, size 24 x 29.75 inches, Private collection.

Richard Dadd had been confined in Bethlem for a decade when he started this painting. The picture illustrates Act II, Scene i, of A Midsummer Night's Dream when, after a long argument Oberon, with Puck at his side, says to Titania, "Give me that boy, and I will go with thee." The Indian Prince desired by Oberon hides behind Titania, who answers, "Not for thy fairy kingdom. Fairies, away!"

Four years of painting gave Dadd ample opportunity to cram this canvas with detail, some of it perhaps irrelevant to the subject and to the play. The scene is crowded with the attendants of Oberon and Titania, and strangely it seems as if the two figures on the right are a pair of the Athenian lovers who do not yet belong "on stage." The painting is framed by flora and fauna--flowers, leaves, and butterflies among them. Included in the "frame" are tiny elves and fairies who flit through the scene. The picture is fascinating to study, but it is difficult to judge what was in Dadd's deranged mind as he sat in the asylum and worked on this painting for four years.

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