Ford Madox Brown

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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.


Life and work

Brown was born in Calais and studied art in Antwerp under Egide Charles Gustave Wappers. In 1843 he submitted work to the Westminster Cartoon Competition, for compositions to decorate the new Palace of Westminster. He 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 (PRB). Though closely linked to them, he was never actually a member of the brotherhood itself. Nevertheless, he remained close to Rossetti, with whom he also joined William Morris's design company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., in 1861. He was a close friend of the landscape artist Henry Mark Anthony. Brown was also the main organiser of the Hogarth Club, a short lived replacement for the PRB which existed between 1858 and 1861.

One of his most famous images is The Last of England which was sold in March 1859 for 325 Guineas[1] (2010: £25,800). It depicts of 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. 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.

Brown's most important painting was Work (1852–1865), commissioned by Thomas Plint [2] and 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.

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