#Friday Painting: Ford Maddox Brown “The Irish Girl”

Ford Madox Brown, “the Irish Girl” 1860 Oil on canvas laid down on board.

What a miserable sad thing it is to be fit for painting only and nothing else.

Ford Madox Brown

Art galleries hold stories. They are clearly evident in artwork which have been carefully placed under lighting positioned for viewers to consider the esthetics of the painting or sculpture.

But there are many stories behind the painting that safeguard the more complex and deeper narrative. There is where you find the artist.

Ford Madox Brown was born just as the Regency period ended in the United Kingdom, the same year that Napoleon Bonaparte died while in exile on the island of Saint Helena. During his lifetime, the 1833 Slavery Abolition Act would ban slavery throughout the British Empire. Across the “pond” Abraham Lincoln would echo this policy with the Emancipation Proclamation.

Ford Madox Brown lived during the Victorian Era along with Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, Victor Hugo, The Bronte Sisters, and the Pre-Raphaelites. The world was energized by progress in science, philosophy, and business.

Ford Madox Brown was notable for his distinctively graphic style which is contained in his painting, “The Irish Girl.” The vibrant reds and oranges highlight the blue flower. The girl’s eyes are wise and intelligent, holding a faraway look.

With a life marked with sadness, Ford Madox Brown, continued to create, but his words: “What a miserable sad thing it is to be fit for painting only and nothing else” gives breath to a life that has seen difficult and uncertain times. Perhaps it is this ambiguity that gives poignancy to his art.

“A difficult family life – his first wife died young, his second wife was an alcoholic, and he also lost his two beloved sons – hardly helped Brown to live in the strong sunshine that he so often chose to paint. That did not mean, though, that he plunged into sourness. Some of his most successful drawings and paintings are of children, whom he managed to capture without resorting to Millais’s later kitsch.” The Guardian

Click this link to view Ford Madox Brown’s work at the Tate