Pretty Baa-Lambs. Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893). 1851–1859. Oil on panel. H 60.9 x W 76.2 cm. Collection: Birmingham Museums Trust. Accession no. 1956P9. Purchased from P. & D. Colnaghi Co. Ltd, 1956. Source: Art UK.
Ford Madox Ford described this painting as becoming "hopelessly enigmatic as soon as one attempts to read a meaning into it," and reports that, when exhibited at the Royal Academy, it was "skied" and "singled out for quite a number of animadversions. It was called 'Catholic Art,' it was called blasphemous, whereas it was merely a study of light and heat. As a matter of fact, the picture was not singularly attractive, and at the time found no admirers. Even the Spectator, which at that time was the Pre-Raphaelite organ, found sufficient fault with it.... The fact that Madox Brown was one of the Iconoclasts was now sufficiently evident on the faces of his canvases; there seemed to be no chance of his returning to the flock of Academic lambs" (84-85).
A great deal of thought had gone into the work, however, with the provision of eighteenth-century costumes, and live sheep, which were transported to Brown's home at Stockwell from nearby Clapham Common. It is possible to see it as an idyllic early summer scene (it was begun in the June of 1851), in which Brown's mistress (then second wife) Emma and their baby Catherine play key roles. It was certainly innovative. Julian Treuherz points out that "Brown was the first to paint both landscape and figures together, achieving a convincingly unified atmospheric effect; the first to set his figures against a dominant blue sky, and the first to use coloured shadows, such as the blue shadows cast by the blades of brilliant green grass on the patches of earth, and the blue shaded areas on the fleece of the lambs" (162).
Note that the landscape, with the Thames in the background, was added later. The smaller replica of the painting in the Ashmolean Museum gives a better idea of the original composition, without this bit of poetic (or topographical) licence.
- "Uncommon Power": Catherine and Lucy Madox-Brown at the Watts Gallery, Compton, 28 September 2021 - 20 February 2022 (This shows the replica, minus the landscape)
Commentary and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the source and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print document. Click on this image and the one below for larger pictures.]
Ford, Ford Madox. Ford Madox Brown: A Record of His Life and Work. London: Longmans, 1896. Internet Archive. Web. 15 October 2021.
Pretty Baa-Lambs. Art UK. Web. 15 October 2021.
Treuherz, Julian, with contributions by Kenneth Bendiner and Angela Thirlwell. Ford Madox Brown: Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer. London: Philip Wilson, 2011.
Created 15 October 2021