Ford Madox Brown images and biography
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Ford Madox Brown

See also: Pre-Raphaelites


"Always an outsider to the art establishment who viewed him as suspiciously foreign because of his birth outside Britain, although to British parents, Ford Madox Brown studied art in the great schools of Antwerp and Paris and brought their influence to bear in his paintings. His pictures are now much in demand, but his contemporaries largely ignored his work and he never made much money out of painting. After visiting Rome in 1845 he became very influenced by the Nazarene School of painting, as invented and practiced by the German painters Johann Overbeck (1789-1869) and Peter von Cornelius (1783-1875).

"Madox Brown's work was highly original at a time when British art was mundane and predictable; his subjects were to do with English literature and language but produced in a dark, highly mannered, and dramatic style synthesized from his early European training and his tours of Italy and Switzerland. His work bore the brunt of his two great weaknesses - finishing and retouching. Even more so than Rossetti, he was almost incapable of finishing his paintings, this meant that he was never able to leave a work alone, even when it was ostensibly finished, he would continually retouch it, even though sometimes the painting was already sold.

"Ford Madox Brown first met Dante Gabriel Rossetti in March 1848 and for a short time gave him academic painting lessons. This rather fell on deaf ears and Rossetti moved on, but in time they resumed their friendship. Ford Madox Brown became closely involved with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood through his friendship with Rossetti, but never a member because he was regarded with xenophobic suspicion by Hunt and Millais.

"Ironically it is Ford Madox Brown who in years to come became regarded as the ultimate Pre-Raphaelite because he painted many of their characteristic paintings. One such, the very first shown in the 1852 summer exhibition - The Pretty Baa-Lambs is a very Pre-Raphaelite-looking picture with its brilliant color (painted on a white ground), naturalistic detail and contemporary subject matter. He had often painted out of doors before but this was the first time he had painted in natural light and it showed to anyone who looked properly. Unfortunately few did, the painting was hung in a poor position and went largely unnoticed.

"The same year he enjoyed perhaps his best period and produced three of his finest paintings, all of them Pre-Raphaelite in everything except name: The Last of England, An English Autumn and Work. The latter, landmark, painting took him 13 years to finish. It is a modern allegory of society and a literal rendition of Heath Street, Hampstead. In it he shows ordinary people as heroes, but without a shade of sentimentality: at the center are common navvies digging. They are surrounded by a thronging crowd of contemporary people: ragged working class children and beggars alongside street traders and smart upper class ladies. The muscle workers are the navvies and itinerant farm workers, while the brain workers are two of Brown's heroes - the Reverend F.D. Maurice, a pioneer of working class education and Christian socialist, and Thomas Carlyle, the author of Past and Present.

"Ford Madox Brown eventually made enough money from his paintings to buy a house in Fitzroy Square which became a lively center for artists and writers to gather together and swap ideas and gossip.

"After receiving little notice for his work Brown gave up exhibiting at the R.A. after 1853; and by 1856 he had lost his belief in the Pre-Raphaelite ethos of painting modern morality works, instead he started collaborating with Morris and Co., working on designs for art glass and illustrations. He was commissioned to paint 12 large murals inside Manchester Town Hall showing the glorious history of Manchester, and he spent a great deal of time on the project, after which he played no significant part in artistic development."

- Text from "The Pre-Raphaelites", by Sandra Forty

Further reading on Madox Brown:

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Madox Brown Images:

1845-51 The Seeds and Fruits of English Poetry
1847-61 John Wycliffe Reading His Translation of the Bible to John of Gaunt
1852-63 Work
1852-63 Work (detail)
1855 The Last of England
c. 1864 Elijah Restoring the Widow's Son
1870 Romeo and Juliet

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