When Phillips and Dadd returned to London, Dadd’s father took him to St. Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics. A doctor judged the artist to be insane, though he protested. Father and son journeyed to Cobham (near the family’s first home), where Dadd Sr. may have urged him to accept treatment. Instead, Dadd Jr. lured his father to a park and, on their evening walk, killed him, slashing him with a razor and knife. Dadd fled to France, assaulting a tourist along the way, and then to Calais, Paris, and finally to a town near Montereau, where the authorities detained him. When the police canvassed his studio looking for clues, they found pictures he’d made of friends and acquaintances with their throats slashed, suggesting that Dadd’s murderous scheme had been premeditated.
Even this tragic note in Dadd’s life was, in some ways, in keeping with British society’s expectations in his day. “The idea that art and madness snuggled up right next to each other—that there was something subversive, dangerous, explosive about art—was very much part of the Victorian cultural milieu,” Demarest said. Dadd’s life took the stereotype to the extreme.
British authorities sent Dadd to London’s infamous Bethlem Royal Hospital (informally known as “Bedlam”—the origin of the colloquial term). In 1864, he moved to the newly opened Broadmoor Facility, where he remained institutionalized until his death in 1886. The staff of the facility became Dadd’s patrons and occasional subjects. Portrait of a Young Man (1853), for example, is thought to depict a hospital attendant. In the painting, a man in a dark suit sits on a bench made of tangled wood; the object seems a part of nature. Victorian mental institutions were notoriously horrific. Physicians’ understanding of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (one of which Dadd probably had) was limited at the time, and restraints and opiates served as their major tactics for calming patients. The doctors’ support for Dadd’s painting—they even helped him get supplies—is a humane note in the history of Victorian mental health care.