Although never officially a member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, Ford Maddox Brown was a great influence on Hunt, Rossetti and Millais, especially in his use of sharp, clear colors, realistic delineation of figures and attention to the effects of light.
Judging by the complex composition and sheer density of activity within Work, it is no surprise that it took Brown twelve years to execute. The attention to detail in this painting is remarkable, especially considering the range of color and texture depicted in the scene.
Work was painted in Hampstead, in the midst of an excavation. At the center of the composition are two laborers, whom Brown has depicted as masculine, strong and heroic. They diligently attend to their business, undistracted by the hustle and bustle around them. Directly above them, in the shadows, are two members of the leisured classes on horseback. Two middle class ladies (on the left) make their way through the chaos, whilst a pair of intellectuals (on the right) quietly observe the scene. In the top right corner, a snaking path draws the viewer away from the activity, passing by a rally, and then further into the London streets.
1. Does the positioning of the upper class riders in the dark shadows (as opposed to being lit up by the bright light of day) have any symbolic significance? Does the composition segregate or integrate the various classes?
2. Are BrownÕs political beliefs/ social messages clear in this image? Do the formal and compositional elements of the painting make the symbolism difficult to locate and decipher?
3. What are some difference and similarities between this piece and HogarthÕs print on Industry and Idleness? Which conveys a more powerful/clear social message?
4. How likely is it that this scene was painted from life?
Last modified 28 May 2007