Ford Madox Brown

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Ford Madox Brown

Ford Madox Brown in 1867, drawn by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Ford Madox Brown (16 April 1821 6 October 1893) was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. Arguably, his most notable painting was Work (18521865). Brown spent the latter years of his life painting the Manchester Murals, depicting Mancunian history, for Manchester Town Hall.

Early life

Brown was the grandson of the medical theorist John Brown, founder of the Brunonian system of medicine. His great grandfather was a Scottish labourer. His father Ford Brown served as a purser in the Royal Navy, including a period serving under Sir Isaac Coffin and a period on HMS Arethusa. He left the Navy after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

In 1818, Ford Brown married Caroline Madox, of an old Kentish family, from which his middle name was taken.[1] Brown's parents had limited financial resources, and they moved to Calais to seek cheaper lodgings, where their daughter Elizabeth Coffin was born in 1819 and their son Ford Madox Brown in 1821.

Brown's education was limited, as the family frequently moved between lodgings in the Pas de Calais and relatives in Kent, but he showed artistic talent in copying of old master prints. His father initially sought a naval career for his son, writing to his former captain Sir Isaac Coffin. The family moved to Bruges in 1835 so Brown could study at the academy under Albert Gregorius. Brown moved to Ghent in 1836 to continue his studies under Pierre Van Hanselaer. He moved to Antwerp in 1837 to study under Egide Charles Gustave Wappers. He continued to study in Antwerp after his mother's death in 1839. His sister died in 1840, and then his father in 1842.

Self-portrait 1850


The Tate Gallery holds an early example of Brown's work, a portrait of his father. He first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840, a work inspired by Lord Byron's poem The Giaour (now lost) and then completed a version of The Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, with his cousin and future wife Elisabeth Bromley as one of his models. He lived in Montmartre with his new wife and aging father in 1841. He painted Manfred on the Jungfrau, inspired by Lord Byron's poem Manfred while he was in Paris.

In 1843 he submitted work to the Westminster Cartoon Competition, for compositions to decorate the new Palace of Westminster. His entry, The Body of Harold Brought before William, was not successful. His early works were, however, greatly admired by the young Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who asked him to become his tutor. Through Rossetti, Brown came into contact with the artists who went on to form the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Though closely linked to them, he was never actually a member of the brotherhood itself, but adopted the bright colours and realistic style of William Holman Hunt and John Everett Millais. He was also influenced by the works of Holbein that he saw in Basel in 1845, and by Friedrich Overbeck and Peter Cornelius, whom he met in Rome in 1845-46.


Brown struggled to make his mark in the 1850s, with his paintings failing to find buyers, and he considered emigrating to India. In 1852 he started work on two of his most significant works.

One of his most famous images is The Last of England, painted from 1852 to 1855, which was sold in March 1859 for 325 Guineas (2010: 26,700). It depicts a pair of stricken emigrants as they sail away on the ship that will take them from England forever. It was inspired by the departure of the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor Thomas Woolner, who had left for Australia. In an unusual tondo format, the painting is structured with Brown's characteristic linear energy, and emphasis on apparently grotesque and banal details, such as the cabbages hanging from the ship's side. The husband and wife are portraits of Brown and his second wife Emma.

Brown, at left, with William Holman Hunt.
Caricature by Max Beerbohm from Rossetti and His Circle.

Brown's most important painting was Work (18521865), begun in Hampstead in 1852. Its completion was commissioned by Thomas Plint, but he died in 1861 before Brown completed the work. and which he showed at his retrospective exhibition in 1865. It attempted to depict the totality of the mid-Victorian social experience in a single image, depicting 'navvies' digging up a road, Heath Street in Hampstead, London, and disrupting the old social hierarchies as they did so. The image erupts into proliferating details from the dynamic centre of the action, as the workers tear a hole in the road and, symbolically, in the social fabric. Each character represents a particular social class and role in the modern urban environment. Brown wrote a catalogue to accompany the special exhibition of Work. This publication included an extensive explanation of Work that nevertheless leaves many questions unanswered. Brown's concern with the social issues addressed in Work prompted him to open a soup kitchen for Manchester's hungry, and to attempt to aid the city's unemployed to find work by founding a labour exchange.

Ford Madox Brown


Brown found patrons in the north of England, including Plint, George Rae from Birkenhead, John Miller from Liverpool, and James Leathart from Newcastle. He lost patience with his poor reception at the Royal Academy, by the late 1850s, and cease to show his works there, rejecting an offer from Millais to support him becoming and associate member. He founded the Hogarth Club in 1858, with William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and his former pupil Rossetti. After a successful periods of a few years, the club reach over 80 members, including several prominent members of the Royal Academy, but Brown resigned in 1860 and the club collapsed in 1861.

From the 1860s, Brown also designed furniture and stained glass. He was a founder partner of William Morris's design company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., in 1861, which dissolved in 1874 with Morris continuing on his own. He was a close friend of the landscape artist Henry Mark Anthony.

Brown's major achievement after Work was "The Manchester Murals", a cycle of twelve paintings in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall depicting the history of the city. Brown would be 72 by the time he finished the murals. In total, he took six years perfecting the murals, which were his last major work.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Jakob und der Mantel Josephs

John Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt


The Bromley family in 1844 - Brown's first wife Elizabeth is to the lower right

Jesus washing Peter's feet at the Last Supper


Romeo and Juliet

The Last of England

Don Juan Discovered by Haydee


Elijah Restoring The Widow's Son

May Memories


Work (detail)

Work (detail)

The Pretty Baa-Lambs

The Bromley Children