The fourth of eleven children of a chemist and druggist, Richard Dadd began his artistic training at the age of thirteen. He studied miniature painting, portraiture, and landscapes and was accepted to the prestigious Royal Academy for further study after turning twenty. Academy professors remarked on his gentleness, cheerful good nature, and great promise as an artist.
Dadd's Neoclassical paintings of ancient subjects, theatrical in concept, followed in the tradition of Lawrence Alma Tadema. He painted scaled-down human figures in small, luminous landscapes of carefully rendered plants and flowers.
In 1842 Dadd left England on a one-year drawing trip throughout Europe and the Middle East. Shortly after his return, he lost his sanity, as had three of his siblings. Dadd murdered his father, attempted to kill a stranger, and spoke of killing the pope and the emperor of Austria, insisting that the Egyptian god Osiris requested these acts. In 1843 the courts and his family committed him to an insane asylum, where he remained for the next forty-three years, continuing to paint.