Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ford Madox Brown Meets Young Rossetti



I had just finished reading Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown by Angela Thirlwell and I felt the need to show how Ford Madox Brown met Dante Gabriel Rossetti (back when he still signed his name Gabriel Charles Rossetti). This misunderstanding and ensuing confrontation actually happened but of course not in as silly a way as shown above.

Ford Madox Brown made a brief appearance in one of my earlier cartoons, getting into a row with William Holman Hunt. (We'll get to their real antagonism towards each other shortly...)

Rossetti, being Rossetti, would end up charming his perplexed would-be art teacher. Featured in the  cartoon, we also meet Emma, Brown's model and soon-to-be wife.  Later on, in the doorway behind Rossetti, is his mother Frances Polidori (sister to Lord Byron's infamous doctor) and younger brother William Michael (with some hair this time) who would also become one of the original seven PRB brothers.

Young Ford Madox Brown, drawn by Rossetti.
Young D.G. Rossetti's portrait of himself,
complete with wind machine.
Ford Madox Brown was a well-traveled artist who had been schooled on the continent rather than the Royal Academy, so his paintings had a decidedly different, even old Flemish, flavor from what the Academy endorsed.
Ford Madox Brown, self-portrait.

This made him all the more fascinating to young Gabriel who made it his mission as a young man to rebel against the Royal Academy (where he was known as "The Italian") in any way he could. This included the way he dressed (shabby, dark clothes that were excused by everyone as "bohemian") to what artwork he favored (he was fond of medievalism.)

Because Brown had not studied at the Academy in England, but rather in Belgium, Italy and France, the older man had a pre-Renaissance flair to his painting style that intrigued the young, bored student of the Academy's Antique School.

It is argued that the older man was the first Pre-Raphaelite (even if he wasn't officially a member of the original PRB) and that his style would influence the entire Pre-Raphaelite movement to come.
Chaucer at the Court of Edward III, Ford Madox Brown.
Brown, like the other PRB members, often enlisted his comrades to pose for him.
Seated on the ground in the left corner is Walter Deverell wooing a girl.
(Sort of typecasting when it came to Deverell...)
Drawing of Emma for one of Brown's most famous
paintings, The Last of England.
Ford Madox Brown, at 27, was already a widower with a young daughter and later had a favorite live-in model named Emma Hill, who would become his second wife. Despite receiving excellent reviews for his work, he sold very few paintings. He was too different, too continental, and thus was deemed unfashionable. He often chose epic, historical scenes as his subjects as well as themes from literature, such as Chaucer and Byron.

But he was best at depicting truthful, unidealized people. This style became something the future PRB would adapt to much early scorn and derision.
 Rossetti decided at once that Ford Madox Brown should be his teacher.

Medallion of young Rossetti with his great hair,
sculpted by John Hancock.
 (No, not the guy who signed his name the biggest on
the Declaration of Independence.)
Now, Rossetti, being Rossetti, couldn't just ask his hero for lessons in a straightforward, politely condensed note. He went very over-the-top with a rambling fan letter full of hyperboles and florid praise that made Brown think that this had to be a joke. Brown was struggling financially and nobody seemed to want his paintings. Also, he worked too slowly and meticulously on each painting, frequently second-guessing and correcting himself. Though he remained true to his vision and not caving in to fashion, he was still not pumping out art fast enough to support himself. Moody and depressed, Ford took offense at the snot-nosed kid who was clearly mocking him.

At his point, I want to thank the awesome Verity Holloway, fountain of knowledge for all things Rossettian, for her assistance in finding the actual letter in its entirety and taking the time to email it to me. Some highlights:
Young Ford in a less agitated reading state, painted by young Johnny Millais. 
I am a student in the Antique School of the Royal Academy. Since the first time  I ever went to an exhibition (which was several years ago, and when I saw a picture of yours from Byron's Giaour ) I have listened with avidity if your name happened to be mentioned, and rushed first of all to your number in the Catalogue..."
He goes on to list the "glorious works" Brown had exhibited which "successively raised my admiration and kept me standing on the same spot for fabulous lengths of time."
Yes, he does use the word "fabulous". Read on.

He tells how he hung up on his wall Brown's published Abstract Representation of Justice (with an accompanying engraved illustration) and that it was the "sole adornment of my room". And in a long tangent, he goes on to describe his humble room: "Small and bare and uncared-for it was, but how many hours which in retrospect seem glorious hours, have I not passed in it with my brother! How many books have we not read to one another..." Etc, etc.
Now we get to the actual point of the letter:

"It is not therefore to be wondered at if, wishing to obtain some knowledge of colour (which I have as yet scarcely attempted), the hope suggests itself that you might possibly admit pupils to profit from your invaluable assistance. In such is being the case, you would do me the honour to inform me what your terms would be for six months' instructions, I feel convinced that I should then have some chance in Art.
--I remain, Sir, very truly yours,
Gabriel C. Rossetti"
 You can just imagine Ford Madox Brown's reaction to this. "You've got to be kidding me."

After confronting Rossetti with his stick in hand, he soon came to the realization that this was not exaggeration on the younger man's part, that this was just how the kid talked. He was invited in by the Rossetti family, given the name "Signor Bruno" (Italian for "Brown") and agreed to tutor Rossetti, waiving any fee that was proposed. From Brown, Rossetti would first hear of a brotherhood of German Romantic artists called the Nazarenes, whose movement would become inspirational to another group soon to be started in secret.

Over the years, Brown would show considerable generosity to his former pupil, lending him money and advice and, yes, his coat.
Ford Madox Brown's self-portrait in later years, with added
beard and unusual hairstyle courtesy of Emma.
The older Rossetti, still borrowing stuff from Bruno.

The kicker to all this was that even after Brown began giving his new young friend lessons (for free, remember!) Rossetti became bored of drawing and painting educational still-lifes and promptly
enlisted a new teacher. This would be William Holman Hunt, his fellow PRB co-founder and also a Royal Academy student who shared his love for pre-Renaissance art.
Holman Hunt and Brown viewed each other with distrust and it was one of the reasons Brown was not invited to officially join the secret Brotherhood... not that he was into such foolishness...
Brown was understandably angry (not to mention hurt) but still managed to remain one of Rossetti's most loyal friends throughout his life.
"But damn it, he still owes me money, the little punk."

Coming up next: Fanboy Rossetti.


1 comment:

  1. Great cartoon...but, alas, in truth it's extremely unlikely Ford had even met Emma when the letter from Rosetti arrived in March 1848, let alone begun his relationship with her. He seems to have first hired Emma as a model at the end of the year - a chalk drawing apparently of her from around Christmas 1848 is the first we see of her, and the first mention in his diary - that the model 'Miss Stone' had sat for him (she was using her mother's maiden name) - is in the entry for 15th January 1849. I am tempted to think she may be the model he hired on 7th December 1848 to pose nude for a sketch of Cordelia - certainly things developed quite rapidly, for on 10 February 1849 he wrote, 'Began the veil of Cordelia, only laid in part of it when a girl as loves me came in & disturbed me'. He records her interrupting his work again two weeks later (he does not complain); and by early July she is no longer 'Miss Stone' but 'E.', and he is anxiously waiting for her return. Shortly afterwards she becomes 'Emma', and they are off to see a play together. In September he took her to the seaside for a week, and by February she was pregnant with their first child.