The Last of England

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, 1855. Oil on panel, 82.5 x 75 cm
Collection of Birmingham Museums Trust, accession no. 1891P24

Ford Madox Brown was a British artist born in Calais in 1821, widely recognised though never officially part of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. It was in 1852 that he started work on two of his most famous paintings: Work, which took thirteen years to complete, and The Last of England, which took just three. He wrote the following diary entry in 1854 as the latter piece took shape—its depiction of a couple with their baby leaving England for a new life in Australia poignantly realised—and as he simultaneously worked on another artwork called The Brent at Hendon.

The Diary Entry

20th Wedy

Lazy & disgracefully inclined. Up with difficulty to go down & breakfast with Emma who was up in spite of condition. Did not wash till after so got to the ‘Brent’ late at 11—worked till one when it was raining pretty freely. I endeavoured to work through it but the big drops piercing the foliage over head I had to give over, spent 20 minutes under a thicket of leafage—tried to begin again when the rain was a little cleared off, but found the weight of water quite displaced the different branches from their normal position making confusion, so came home to dinner, felt my head very oppressed while there & extremely & unusually nervous before setting to work, is this from smoking again? After dinner worked at drawing in the outline of the male head in ‘the Last of England’—then reflected on it till near five, settled that I would paint the woman in Emma’s shepherd plaid shawl instead of the large blue & green plaid as in the sketch. This is a serious affair settled which has caused me much perplexity. After this I worked till tea time at scraping away the ground of Zink white which I had laid myself for the picture at Hampstead. I found that the head of the man had cracked all over since I painted it, so had to scrape it out—his coat also has crack in it, a bad thing in a coat in particular, so I will have no more of this zink confound it. There is nothing like tin for a foundation to go upon, in this system will I work henceforth. After tea I worked at altering the little lady reading a letter in the ‘Brent’ which had rubbed in from Emma the other day, I have made it more sentimental. After this I cleaned my pallet & brushes & am now writing this. I must now leave off to begin the lettering of the ‘Cartoon’ & painted sketch of ‘the Last of England’—only did the sketch 11 p.m. (6½ hours).

Further Reading

Ford Madox Brown’s diary from this period now lives at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. In 1900, some of those entries were reprinted in a book called Præraphaelite Diaries and Letters which, now out of print, can be read at the Internet Archive. In 1981, Brown’s diary was published more fully by Yale University in The Diary of Ford Madox Brown, edited by Virginia Surtees.


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