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Ford Madox Brown ( 1821 - 1893 )  Category ( Painters ) [suggest a correction]

Romeo and JulietFord Madox Brown was a French-born English painter of the nineteenth century. His father was retired from the British Navy, and his mother was Caroline Madox, who came from an established family in Kent. Brown was an only child. During his early childhood the family moved back and forth between England and France. From early childhood he displayed an aptitude for painting and sketching, and by age fifteen his earliest preserved work -- an oil portrait of his father -- appeared. During his youth he studied art in Antwerp, Paris, and Rome. He immigrated to England in 1846 and became friends with members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, though he never actually joined their ranks officially. Some art critics and historians name Brown as the most Pre-Raphaelite of all the Pre-Raphaelites. It is known that Dante Rosetti studied briefly under Brown. He was one of the first English artists to focus attention on subjects related to the working and lower classes, particularly in urban settings. During that period, he provided an artist's statement that encapsulated his views on painting average people in typical settings. He wrote that painting subjects such as an excavator or sailor had appeal because "it appeared to me that he was at least as worthy of the powers of an English painter as the fisherman of the Adriatic, the peasant of the Campagna, or the Neapolitan lazzarone."

Brown, despite his English birth, was always considered an outsider in the English art world, even though it was well known that both his parents were English. Most of his English contemporaries ignored his efforts, and he never made a living at his art. One difficulty he demonstrated repeatedly in his work was his inability to ever finish a painting. In other words, he could never let it go, but rather returned to it again and again making small corrections and retouching certain areas. He would do this even after the painting was sold. He was known for his vigorous attention to detail, particularly in regard to historical or dramatic scenes and subjects. He was fond of portraying the familiar, the mundane, and even the semi-grotesque. By mid-career he was favoring classical, biblical, and Shakespearean-inspired themes.

Brown was regarded by his contemporaries as an "upright, independent, and honorable character, of warm affections." In later years he suffered from gout. Politically he was a confirmed democrat. Never a religious man, he maintained agnostic beliefs. He remained a lifelong advocate for the working classes. He married Elizabeth Bromley in 1841, and following her death; he married Emma Hill, in 1853. He had one son, Oliver Madox, who became a novelist and painter.

Image: An 1870 oil painting by Ford Madox Brown depicting Romeo and Juliet's famous balcony scene.

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