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Home / Great Artists / B / Ford Madox Brown / Biography
Biography Ford Madox Brown

Ford Madox Brown Biography


1821-1893

English Pre-Raphaelite Painter

Ford Madox Brown (April 16, 1821 - October 6, 1893) was an English painter of moral and historical subjects, notable for his distinctively graphic and often Hogarthian version of the Pre-Raphaelite style. While he was closely associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he was never actually a member. Nevertheless, he remained close to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, with whom he also joined William Morris's design company, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., in 1861.

One of his most famous images is The Last of England, a portrait 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), 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, 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 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. These present a partly ironic and satirical view of Mancunian history.

His son Oliver Madox Brown (1855-1874) showed promise both as an artist and poet, but died of blood-poisoning.

He was the grandfather of novelist Ford Madox Ford and great-grandfather of Labour Home Secretary Frank Soskice.