> Ford Madox Brown's monumental Work painted between 1852 and 1865 became one of the most famous images of his career. The work similarly incorporates some of the most important Pre-Raphaelite influence found anywhere in his work. although Brown never became a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood for various reasons such as age and nationality, the movement no doubt had effect on such elements of his art as his style, composition, use of color and attention to gritty detail. Like the Pre-Raphaelites, Brown here presents a low-depth amalgam of people in bright colors with various storylines. Unlike the earlier genre painting that the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood directly reacted against, Brown sets this somewhat heroic depiction of the lower classes in the rural landscape of the countryside and makes it less sentimental.
Here, Brown renders the relationship of the classes in a manner that is both honest and accusatory. Because of the struggling workers' proximity to the unmoved upper class members here, Brown forces us to compare. He forces us to perceive the toiling lower class as the class worthy of reverence and respect, but he makes it less clear here than in such paintings as those of Hogarth, for example, if these people will ever receive their reward. Here, any sign of payoff or reward is absent. Yet, as the ladies pass along by the left, as a wealthy man and woman look on in seeming indifference, and as the two men at the right of the composition lean back and observe, Brown's composition nonetheless draws us to the center of the painting. Both figuratively and literally, Brown frames the working class at the heart of the work. He does not make them idealized, but instead renders them with an impressive realism that ultimately presents them as worthy of the respect that the upper classes fail to offer them.
1. The two men at the right of the painting are the Reverend F.D. Maurice, a pioneer of working class education and Christian socialist, and Thomas Carlyle, the author of Past and Present. What might be the function of incorporating these two well-known men? Could Brown be presenting them in a light that immediately relates to the viewer that their interest lies in helping with the conditions of the lower classes?
2. What could Brown be presenting through such elements in the painting as the man imbibing a bottle of alcohol and the mischievous, almost demon-like face of the boy receiving a pinch of the ear in the foreground? Does he portray the working class in an entirely positive or heroic light or could he still be blaming only their situation with these less-than-flattering details.
3. What might be the significance of the people walking down the street holding signs in the back right of the composition?
Last modified 30 September 2004