Although Ford Madox Brown was never an official member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Brown's painting May Memories is among the number of his works that demonstrate Pre-Raphaelite influence. Firstly, in this painting, Brown captures an immense number of details, and all of which, throughout the picture, are markedly naturalistic. All large compositional elements — his wife Emma, her clothing and accessories, and the rather large tree in the background — seem true to life, even when potentially inelegant. Secondly, Brown's composition, though simple, holds an obvious symbolism: his wife's hair is almost impossible to distinguish from the tree's foliage, and thus she is clearly integrated with the natural and with the awakened spring. Brown portrays Emma in a natural pose and underlines the authenticity of this naturalness by visually conflating Emma's hair and the tree's leaves in a very realistic manner.
1. How can this painting's symbolism relate to the typological symbolism of Hunt and others? In what ways does it differ?
2. With her mouth open and her eyes gazing on a downward bent, Emma appears in a slightly awkward pose in this composition, yet Brown is surely trying to preserve her image with admiration. In what ways does Brown reconcile a naturalistic style and the desire to convey respect for his wife?
3. The title suggests that the painting has an air of something passed or soon to be passing. How does Brown accomplish this impression stylistically?
4. Emma is holding flowers which look prearranged — likely so she could emphasize her wedding ring. How does the contrast of the contrived bouquet and the wilder tree affect the symbolism of the picture?
5. Where is the source of light for this painting? Could this affect how to interpret the painting?
Last modified 28 May 2007