This sheet of studies, previously attributed to J.F. Lewis, R.A., (1805-75) is closely related to Richard Dadd's ill-fated travels of 1842/3, though its exact purpose and the time when it was made are both uncertain.
In July 1842, while he was still formally a student at the Royal Academy Schools, Richard Dadd left England to accompany Sir Thomas Phillips on a ten month tour through Europe and the Middle East, having been commissioned to make drawings of the places they visited. Dadd had already established a reputation as the most promising young artist of his generation, and was admired for the imaginative qualities of his paintings and his exceptionally fine draughtsmanship. He had been recommended to Phillips by his mentor David Roberts, R.A., who himself was currently achieving a huge success with paintings and lithographs of Middle Eastern scenes based on his own sketching tour of the area. There must have seemed little doubt that Dadd's career would similarly benefit from such an opportunity. It was from this journey, however, that he returned in the early stages of a catastrophic mental breakdown, and already suffering from the delusions which soon led to the murder of his father and his lifelong confinement, first in Bethlem Hospital and then in Broadmoor.
While travelling Dadd had little time to make finished drawings, and was very rarely able to use colour, but made numerous tiny, exquisite and meticulous pencil sketches which he intended to use in larger works on his return home. One of his sketchbooks is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and contains identical but smaller pencil drawings of all the heads and figures which appear on this sheet. In the sketchbook they do not all occur together, but are found scattered amongst other drawings on several different pages. Though not dated, they can be identified as having been made while Dadd and Phillips were in Constantinople between 14 and 27 September 1842. It seems unlikely that Dadd would have been able to make two identical versions of portrait sketches such as these from life, particularly since many of his drawings must have been snatched in haste and often without the sitter's awareness. This sheet would therefore seem to have been compiled from the sketchbook drawings, though it could have been made at around the same time. However, it is also possible that it was made after Dadd's return to England in May 1843, and before the tragic climax of his illness in August, when he is known to have carried on working during periods of remission.
A similar sheet, featuring Eastern heads which also appear in the sketchbook but derive from a different part of the journey, is in the collection of Winchester College, and was also formerly attributed to Lewis.
We are grateful to Patricia Allderidge for her help in preparing this catalogue entry and to Briony Llewellyn for her help in cataloguing the present drawing.