Ford Madox Brown

Ford Madox Brown

1821 - 1893

Remarks: Ford Madox Brown's self-written catalogue to accompany his painting 'Work' (1865): FMB twelve murals for Manchester Town Hall:
born. 1821 in Calais, France; Died. 1893 in London, England

Victorian painter and designer associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and Art and Crafts Movement.

Ford Madox Brown began his artistic training in the Belgian cities, Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp. In 1840 Brown moved to Paris to continue his artistic training, however never enrolled at any of the Parisian academies, instead he chose to study independently using museums such as the Louvre from which to learn and develop his style. A brief period followed in Rome where Brown became influenced by the Italian masters and leaned towards painting dramatic scenes with a darkened, reduced colour palette. In 1848 Brown met the younger painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), and the junior painter became Brown's pupil. Through their artistic relationship Brown met other younger contemporaries including William Holman Hunt (1827-1910) and John Everett Millais (1829-1896). The three younger artist established the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in that same year, but the older Brown was not invited to join their new group. Brown did, however, become heavily associated with the younger visionaries and they had a considerable impact upon his own work, most evident in his move towards depicting religious moral subjects and also his treatment of colour which became increasingly more vibrant and liberated.

One of Brown’s best known paintings is titled ‘The Last of England’ (1852-55). There exists two versions painted in oil (Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge) and one watercolour replica (Tate collection). The painting depicts a Victorian family emigrating to Australia and reminds us of the difficulties faced by Victorian British émigrés, then at its peak during the 1850s. Another well known painting is titled ‘Work’ (1852 -65). This ambitious painting depicts the development of the Victorian industrialised urban economy, from its humble, rural origins being transformed into the mechanised, urban powerhouse. It took Brown over ten years to complete and, because of its complicated narrative and depiction of the entire Victorian social system, Brown felt it necessary to produce a catalogue which explained the meanings contained within his image (available here:

Brown first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1840 but his work failed to generate any significant interest there. Brown was also unsuccessful in a number of London competitions, including designs he submitted for mural schemes in the newly constructed Houses of Parliament at Westminster. Brown quickly became dissatisfied with his lack of impact in London and at the Royal Academy, and even rejected an offer of becoming an associate-member from his friend John Everett Millais. However, outside of the inconsistencies of the London art world Brown managed to secure a willing patronage based the north of England, located in industrial cities including Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle. In the 1860s Brown moved into decorative design and produced a number of stained-glass windows and items of furniture, and in 1861 he was a founder-member of William Morris’ infamous arts and crafts design firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Co. In his later years Brown produced a range of decorative mural paintings (a number of his designs had been unsuccessful earlier in his career), the best known are a commission he received in 1878 for a series of twelve paintings in the Great Hall of Manchester Town Hall (began in 1879 and completed in 1893). Brown was an ideal candidate to execute such civic murals as he had a good understanding of the Northern European mural tradition, with its particular use of characters placed among dramatic compositions. He also had an unrivalled ability to depict large historical images charged with morality and social meaning.

Brown is represented by collections including Tate, British Museum, National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Trust and National Museum Wales. Regional collections include those in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Bradford, Cambridge, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, and Southampton, among others.

(Benjamin Angwin – September 2014)