Born in Calais of British parents in 1821, he was shifted about between England and France as a child. A talent for drawing was noted and he began studying painting and drawing seriously from an early age. Although he was a proficient artist, his work much appreciated after his death, he was mostly ignored by the art establishment of his day, who saw him as an outsider, unwilling to compromise. He never made much money from his work. As principled and passionate in life as in art, he could be perceived as prickly in temperament, although he was considered a self-sacrificing and loyal friend.
Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown studied in Belgium, Paris (1840-44) and Rome (1845-46). In Rome he met Overbeck and other Nazarene artists, and was strongly influenced by their use of clear colour and medieval subject matter, which reinforced the teaching he had received in Belgium. He went to England in 1846, and his Wycliffe (Bradford, with preparatory sketch) of 1847-48 so impressed Rossetti that he asked to become his pupil. This brought Brown into the orbit of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Although he never became a member of the Brotherhood he had much in common with them, notably painting out of doors and developing an interest in contemporary genre subjects.
(Web gallery of Art at wga.hu)
The Bromley Children
Walton on the naze
Chaucer at the Court of Edward III
Oil on canvas, 1846-1851
Art Gallery of New South Wales (Sydney, Australia)
From ARC at artrenewal.org
Writer, official and bureaucrat, the outstanding English poet before William Shakespeare, Geoffrey Chaucer, above, is remembered as the author of Canterbury Tales, which ranks as one of the greatest epic works of world literature. Chaucer made a crucial contribution to English literature in writing in English at a time when much court poetry was still composed in Anglo-Norman or Latin. Although he spent one of two brief periods of disfavor, Chaucer lived the whole of his life close the centers of English power.
Chaucer’s career in the royal service began in 1357, when he was appointed to the household of Elizabeth, Countess of Ulster, and her husband Prince Lionel. In 1359-1360 Chaucer went to France with Edward III's army during the Hundred Years' War. He was captured in the Ardennes and returned to England after the treaty of Brétigny in 1360. It it said that during this period he translated from the French the allegory Romaunt of the Rose, which was his first literary work. Chaucer was so valued as a skilled professional soldier that his ransom, £16, then a tidy sum, was paid by his friends and King Edward.
Edward III, of Windsor (13 November 1312 - 21 June 1377) was one of the most successful English monarchs of the Middle Ages. Restoring royal authority after the disastrous reign of his father, Edward II, Edward III went on to transform the Kingdom of England into one of the most efficient military powers in Europe. His reign saw vital developments in legislature and government—in particular the evolution of the English parliament—as well as the ravages of the Black Death. He remained on the throne for 50 years; no English monarch had reigned for as long since Henry III, and none would again until George III, as King of the United Kingdom.
Oil on canvas, 1852-63
Manchester City Art Galleries
Brown's most important painting was 'Work' (1852-1865), which he showed at a special exhibition. 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.
From ARC at artrenewal.org
This ambitious composition can be described as a "real allegory." To paint his chosen location (in the north London suburb of Hampstead), he had carried his huge canvas and set it up in situ throughout the summer of 1852. Hence the sunlight that illuminates some of the protagonists (the "navvies," the orphans with their big sister, and, in the distance on the right, the people carrying election posters), while in the shade of the trees the artist portrays a wealthy couple on horseback and, on the other side of the railings, a family of Irish tramps. On the far right, observing this spectacle of the entire social spectrum, we recognize Thomas Carlyle and Frederick Denison Maurice, whose ideas are illustrated here.
(Web gallery of Art at wga.hu)
The subject, of work in all its forms, was inspired by Brown seeing navvies at work laying drains. Each character or group is of symbolic significance, from the navvies representing physical work to the gentleman and his daughter on horseback who are rich enough not to have to work. The young lady giving out religious tracts is doing 'God's work', while the itinerant farm workers fall asleep under the trees are destitute for the want of work. The two gentlemen on the right were described by the artist as the 'brainworkers' who seem to be idle, but they are the source of social reform and prosperity. The potboy with his beer tray carries a copy of 'The Times' under his arm. Literacy was seen as the key to social improvement and political power for the working class. The Masonic symbols of trowel and set-square in the foreground represent another means of advancement for tradesmen.
Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
The Last of England 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. This is a painting about emigration; the couple is departing for Australia. The subject is departure in desperate circumstances for a foreign land. The artist himself posed for the painting, along with his partner Emma, and their children Cathy, the fair-haired girl in the background, and Oliver, the baby.
The painting tells the story of the emigration of a young family from England; part of the great emigrating movement of the 1850s, as people sought new lives around the British Empire. Here, compelled to leave all they have known and loved, their grim stoicism testifies to their determination.
The Last of England also tells the story of the artist, Ford Madox Brown. In 1852, he was "intensely miserable, very hard up and not a little mad". The main figures are portraits of Brown and his beloved model, Emma Hill, whom he married in 1853. They form a solid unit, bound together in their love. It is a painting full of human emotion, incident and drama; from the vulnerability of their baby's tiny hand to the savage anger of the figures in the background.
The painting is also part of the story of Birmingham's cultural life. Now the most famous painting in the museum, it has inspired generations of Birmingham people.
Water Color, 1866-72
Cordelia’s Portion subject is based upon Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’. Lear had dispossessed his youngest and favourite daughter Cordelia. Her honesty in answering that she loved her father ‘according to her bond’ rather than vying with her sisters to suggest that she loved them the most, had led to Lear depriving her of the third of his kingdom that was rightfully hers. Her sisters Goneril and Regan, and their respective husbands, the Dukes of Albany and Cornwall , are shown grasping the crown that Lear has passed to them.
Madox Brown suggests the malevolent intent of these sisters by their mutual gaze. On the right, the King of France looks heavenward and swears love for his future wife, the dowerless Cordelia. The Duke of Burgundy, who will no longer press his suit for Cordelia now that she has been disinherited, stands pensively biting his finger beside Lear’s throne. Lear is shown in the grip of vain rage and already appears slightly crazed.
Behind the throne stands the Duke of Gloucester, Lear’s fool and three spearmen. To the far left, a small figure gazes back into the room with an arm extended downwards in a distraught gesture. It is likely that he is the Duke of Kent who has suffered banishment for trying to persuade Lear to revoke his foolhardy plans.
Madox Brown’s approach to historical verisimilitude in this picture is rather fanciful. The King of France wears vaguely fourteenth-century costume, Lear is dressed in a druidical toga, while Cornwall and Albany have some of the stock accompaniments of stage banditti. The mistletoe above Lear’s head strikes an authentically ancient British note as do the curiously placed oak leaves in the helmets of Lear’s soldiers. Rather less in keeping are the Greek honeysuckle motifs and the imperial griffins on the throne. The tripod table is Roman and the censer, orb and sceptre might well have emanated from the workshop of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company. On the foreground map is marked Dover, where the play ends with the death of Lear, Cordelia and her sisters.
Cordelia’s Portion was commissioned in 1865 by Frederick Craven of Manchester, who liked only watercolours.
(Lady Lever art Gallery at liverpoolmuseums.org.uk)
Madox Brown was never a popular or highly remunerated artist. Up to near middle age he went through trying straits in money matters; afterwards his circumstances improved, but he was not really well off at any time. In youth he followed the usual course as an exhibiting painter, but after some mortifications and heart-burnings he did little in this way after 1852. He held, however, in 1865, an exhibition of his own then numerous paintings and designs. He also delivered a few lectures on fine art from time to time. From 1868 he suffered from gout; and this led to an attack of apoplexy, from which he died in London on the 6th of October 1893. He was a man of upright, independent and honorable character, of warm affections, a steady and self-sacrificing friend; but he took offense rather readily, and viewed various persons and institutions with a degree of suspicion which may be pronounced excessive. He felt interest in many questions outside the range of his art, and, being a good and varied talker, had often something apposite and suggestive to say about them. On more than one occasion he exerted himself very zealously for the benefit of the working classes.