Ford Madox Brown

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Ford Madox Brown
Ford madox brown.jpg
Self-portrait 1850
Born (1821-04-16)16 April 1821
Calais, France
Died 6 October 1893(1893-10-06) (aged 72)
London, England
Resting place St Pancras and Islington Cemetery
Nationality British
Field Painting
Movement Pre-Raphaelite
Works Work (painting)
The Last of England (painting)

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 (1852–1865). Brown spent the latter years of his life painting The Manchester Murals for Manchester Town Hall which depicted Mancunian history.

Life and work[edit]

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 Brotherhood that 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: £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.

Brown's Jacob and Joseph's Coat at Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce, Puerto Rico

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. 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.[3][4]

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.[5]


Brown was the grandson of the medical theorist John Brown, founder of the Brunonian system of medicine. His father Ford Brown was a purser in the navy; his mother, Caroline Madox, of an old Kentish family, from which his middle name was taken.[6]

Ford Madox Brown was married twice. His first wife Elizabeth Bromley died in 1846 aged 27, after giving birth to a daughter, Lucy Madox Brown Rossetti. He later married his model Emma Hill, who appears in many of his paintings and is the wife in The Last of England. His son with Emma, Oliver Madox Brown (1855–1874) showed promise both as an artist and poet, but died of blood poisoning before his maturity. Their daughter, Catherine, married Francis Hueffer; through Catherine, Brown was the grandfather of novelist Ford Madox Ford and great-grandfather of Labour Home Secretary Frank Soskice.

Brown is buried in London in the St Pancras and Islington Cemetery in East Finchley, close to Muswell Hill. He was given a secular funeral, and the funeral oration was delivered by the American Moncure D. Conway, the secularist after whom Conway Hall was later named.[7]


The Ford Madox Brown, a Wetherspoon's pub in Manchester

The J D Wetherspoon pub in Oxford Road, Manchester is named after Ford Madox Brown.[8] It states on the Wetherspoon's website that "This J D Wetherspoon pub is named after the much-travelled artist Ford Madox Brown, a one-time resident of Victoria Park, a suburb south of the pub." The pub opened in 2007.



External video
Pre-Raphaelites: Curator's choice – Ford Madox Brown's 'Work', Tate Gallery
  • Virginia Surtees (ed), The Diary of Ford Madox Brown (1981, ISBN 0-300-02743-5)
  • Kenneth Bendiner, Ford Madox Brown: Il Lavoro, (Turin: Lindau, 1991).
  • Kenneth Bendiner, The Art of Ford Madox Brown, (University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1998)
  • Tessa Sidey (ed), Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite, (2008, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery ISBN 978-1-904832-56-0)
  • Angela Thirlwell, Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown, (2011, Pimlico ISBN 978-1-844139-14-9)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sale of Valuable Pictures, The Times, 28 March 1859
  2. ^ Dianne Sachko Macleod, ‘Plint, Thomas Edward (1823–1861)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004
  3. ^ Fiona MacCarthy (31 August 2012). "Why the pre-Raphaelites were the YBAs of their day". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  4. ^ "Biography of Ford Madox Brown-Social conscience". Manchester Art Gallery. 2009. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  5. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (16 September 2011). "Ford Madox Brown: pre-Raphaelite pioneer and working-class hero". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2011. 
  6. ^ "Ford Madox Brown", 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
  7. ^ See TLS 2008 article cited below.
  8. ^ "The Ford Madox Brown, Manchester | Our Pubs". J D Wetherspoon. 17 December 2007. Retrieved 2012-04-13. 

External links[edit]