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The King of Hearts: Ford Madox Brown

Andréa Fernandes

Exactly 188 years ago today, the English painter Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893) was born. In honor of his birth, today's "Feel Art Again" features Brown and his 1859 painting, "The Pretty Baa-Lambs."

1. Although Ford Madox Brown's style is similar to the style of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Brown himself was never actually a member of the brotherhood. According to his granddaughter, Brown was "suspicious of combinations, coteries, and "˜conspiracies'" and was "very averse to getting mixed up in them."

2. "By far the best man that I know—the really good man—is Brown," Dante Gabriel Rossetti said of the Brown. Rossetti had written to Brown, praising the artist's skill, but Brown at first took the letter to be some kind of joke. When Rossetti insisted his comments were genuine, Brown accepted him as a pupil and brought him into his studio. The two artists remained friends for life and became related when Brown's daughter Lucy married Rossetti's brother William.

3. Brown's "Work" is considered his most important painting. Brown spent 13 years on the painting, which portrays "the totality of the Victorian social system and the transition from a rural to an urban economy." To accompany "Work," Brown wrote a catalogue detailing the painting's significance.

4. According to one source, Brown "threw brilliant parties, hosted animated debates and even fashionable séances." The article goes on to state that Brown's admirers considered him "the handsomest man in London" as well as "the best conversationalist." Apparently, he was referred to as a "King of Hearts."

5. Brown's only son, Oliver, "showed promise as an artist and poet." At age 18, he exhibited in the Royal Academy. His novel, Gabriel Denver, supposedly "made the whole English reading public believe that a great new novelist was coming into literature." Unfortunately, Oliver died of blood poisoning at age 19.

6. In 1861, Brown was one of the founding members of William Morris' business, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner and Company (later Morris and Company). While he was with the company, Brown created several stained glass designs, including ones for Trinity Church (Saugerties, NY), as well as furniture designs.

A larger version of "The Pretty Baa-Lambs" is available here. Fans should check out the collections of Brown's work at ARC, Wikimedia, the Tate, and the Liverpool museums; Brown's "The Last of England" and his Manchester murals; Manchester Art Gallery's "Work"-related education section; these portraits of Brown; the biography of Brown written by his grandson; and Brown's letters. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.