The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke

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Richard Dadd. Fairy Fellers' Master-Stroke. 1855–1864. Oil on canvas. 54 × 39.5 cm. Tate Gallery, London

The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke is a painting by English artist Richard Dadd. It was begun in 1855 and worked on until 1864. Dadd painted it while incarcerated in the State Criminal Lunatic Asylum of Bethlem Royal Hospital, where he was confined after he murdered his father in 1843.[1] It was commissioned by George Henry Haydon, who was head steward of the hospital at the time.


Dadd had begun his career as a painter of fairy paintings before the onset of his mental illness. After he was committed, he was encouraged to resume painting. G. H. Haydon was impressed by Dadd's artistic efforts and asked for a fairy painting of his own. Dadd worked on the painting for nine years, paying microscopic attention to detail[2] and using a layering technique to produce 3D-like results. Although it is generally regarded as his most important work, Dadd himself considered the painting to be unfinished (the background of the lower left corner is only sketched in).[3]

He signed the back of the canvas with the inscription: "The Fairy-Feller's Master-Stroke, Painted for G. H. Haydon Esqre by Rd. Dadd quasi 1855–64".[4] According to Patricia Allderidge, 'quasi' "may mean that it was set aside during that period or that it took a long time to start".[5] The end date, 1864, coincides with Dadd's transfer to Broadmoor Hospital in Berkshire, the asylum where he spent the remaining 21 years of his life.[6]

In order to give context to his work, Dadd subsequently wrote a long poem by the name of Elimination of a Picture & its Subject—called The Fellers' Master Stroke[2] in which each of the characters appearing in the picture is given a name and purpose—including myriad references to old English folklore and Shakespeare—in an apparent attempt to show that the painting's unique composition was not merely a product of random, wild inspiration.

From Haydon the painting passed to collector Alfred Morrison, whose daughter Katharine Gatty gave it to the war poet Siegfried Sassoon when he married her daughter Hester in 1933.[7][8] Sassoon withdrew it from a Sotheby's auction on 29 May 1963 and presented it to the Tate Gallery "in memory of his friend and fellow officer Julian Dadd, a grandnephew of the artist, and of his [Julian's] two brothers [Stephen Gabriel and Edmund] who gave their lives in the First World War".[2][8][9] Julian Dadd was severely wounded in the war and died by suicide in 1937.[9] The painting is now in the Tate Britain collection.[2]

In other works[edit]


  1. ^ Allderidge, pp. 24–29.
  2. ^ a b c d "The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke 1855–64",, Retrieved 16 June 2017
  3. ^ "Richard Dadd: biography, bibliography, and links | Biography Project: An Independent Reference Resource for counterculture|subculture|underground". Retrieved Jun 5, 2020.
  4. ^ Winkfield p. 61.
  5. ^ Allderidge, p. 31.
  6. ^ Allderidge, p. 33.
  7. ^ Tromans, Nicholas (14 March 2012). "Richard Dadd's Master-Stroke". The Public Domain Review. Retrieved 29 January 2022.
  8. ^ a b Tate Gallery (1964). "Appendix C(a). Acquisitions: British Works". Report of the Trustees for the Year 1 April 1963 to 31 March 1964. HMSO. p. 20.
  9. ^ a b
  10. ^ "NEIL GAIMAN'S FANTASY PAINTING". 1843 magazine. 14 June 2013. Retrieved 26 April 2019.
  11. ^ "The Throbs – The Language Of Thieves And Vagabonds". Discogs. 1991. Retrieved 26 April 2019.[better source needed]
  12. ^ "PSALMS FOR THE DEAD". Aug 25, 2015. Retrieved Jun 5, 2020.


  • Allderidge, Patricia (1974). Richard Dadd. New York and London: St. Martin's Press/Academy Editions.
  • MacGregor, John (1989). The Discovery of the Art of the Insane. Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-04071-0
  • Winkfield, Trevor (2014). Georges Braque and Others: The Selected Art Writings of Trevor Winkfield (1990–2009). New York: Song Cave. ISBN 978-0-9884643-3-9.

External links[edit]