Philip John Stephen Dadd was born in Poplar, East London, into an artistic family. His uncle was the artist Frank Dadd who worked for The Graphic, and his mother the daughter of John Greenaway, a well known artist and engraver. It was his aunt, the famous Kate Greenaway who encouraged him to take up art and from 1900 to 1903 he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Aged 18, he had several of his pictures published during the Boer War. By the early 1900s he was employed as a staff artist by The Sphere, and illustrated one book, William Tell Re-Told, by P. G. Wodehouse in 1904.
Between 1905 and 1914, he exhibited regularly, including at the Royal Academy where his first exhibit, All the King’s Horse and All the King’s Men , was perhaps his most popular. In common with many artist and illustrators during this period, he was a member of the London Sketch Club.
In the summer of 1914, he painted several scenes of London at the height of the Season, but a year later would be turning his hand to depicting a very different genre. In December 1915, he joined the Queen’s Westminster Rifles as a private, despite what The Sphere referred to as “his intense conscientiousness”, a phrase that probably alludes to Dadd’s own doubts over his abilities as a soldier rather than any forthright moral objections to the conflict. But, according to the magazine, he soon “thoroughly enjoyed camp life and went out to the war full of courage and hope”.
His letters to his mother and sister at home reveal a remarkably sensitive and observant man, able to use his artist’s eye in an appreciation of his surroundings. The Sphere lauded his remarkable ability to “recreate a scene from descriptions given to him by eye-witnesses”, and even in the war-torn landscapes of the Western Front he seems to have been able to find an inherent beauty in the countryside, providing his family at home with moving and lyrical descriptions of his surroundings.
Philip Dadd’s last published pictures, a British gas sentry ringing a church bell to alert troops to a gas attack, appeared on the cover of the 12 August 1916 issue of The Sphere. By the time of publication, Philip Dadd was dead, killed 10 days earlier, aged 36.