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'The Last of England' by Ford Madox Brown 1855, Pre-Raphaelite Painting

Amanda is a keen artist and art historian with a particular interest in 19th-century art, especially the work of the Pre-Raphaelites.

'The Last of England' by Ford Madox Brown

Now owned by Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery

Now owned by Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery

'The Last of England' - leaving it all behind

It's almost impossible not to be moved by Ford Madox Brown's 1855 painting, 'The Last of England'. Painted in an era when emigration from Europe was at it's height, this picture gives us a very intimate glimpse into what it actually meant to pack up one's life and sail off into in an uncertain future. This is a decision that would not have been taken lightly, and yet thousands upon thousands of people, men, women and children, quit their homes and packed up their possessions in the hope of a new start in the Americas or Australasia during the 19th century. For many amongst the poorer and middle classes, this was an opportunity to escape the grinding poverty of the slums that had grown up in big cities in the wake of industrialisation. For others it was the prospect of adventure, and the lure of the unknown that drew them to take passage to a new world and a fresh start.

In 1852, the sculptor Thomas Woolner, one of the founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite art movement, took ship for Australia. Ford Madox Brown was a close associate of Woolner's, and this painting, 'The Last of England', was inspired by his departure. The emigrants are depicted in great detail, and the picture gives us a snapshot of Victorian society.

In the background we see the white cliffs of England receding into the distance, and the green, choppy sea hints at challenging times ahead. On a net In the foreground we see some of the ship's supplies hanging. You can't help but wonder just how fresh those cabbages will taste a few weeks into the voyage! Behind the main characters a small child in a bonnet grasps her mother's scarf. Someone else is smoking a long clay pipe, and a man in a top hat is brandishing his fist at the coast line as if to say, 'and good riddance to ye!'


Look at the hands in this close-up

Detail from 'The Last of England' by Ford Madox Brown

Detail from 'The Last of England' by Ford Madox Brown

Hand in hand into a new beginning

For me this is the most touching detail in the painting. The resolute young man, grim faced, yet determined, has turned his back on England, and he and his young wife stare at the horizon, taking comfort each from the other. His bare, workman-like hand is clasped by her neat, gloved hand, whilst, just visible in the folds of her cloak, you see her left hand, clasping the small fist of the child that is cradled in the crook of her arm.

'The Last of England' was sold in March 1859 for the sum of 325 guineas. It now hangs in Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery.

Ford Madox Brown was born in the French port of Calais in 1821 and died in England in 1893. He is buried in the St Pancras and Islington Cemetry in London

Ford Madox Brown's preparatory sketch of Emma Hill

Ford Madox Brown's wife Emma Hill, served as the model for his painting 'The Last of England'

Ford Madox Brown's wife Emma Hill, served as the model for his painting 'The Last of England'

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2010 Amanda Severn


Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on February 28, 2011:

Good luck with arranging your visit, Amanda :)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on February 28, 2011:

Hi Trish, lucky you to have the original on your doorstep. I've never seen the original in the flesh, but it's definitely on my 'to do' list!

Tricia Mason from The English Midlands on February 26, 2011:

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This is indeed a lovely picture. It is on the cover of one of my history books and I have always liked it. And I can pop in to see the original from time to time :)

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on January 05, 2011:

Hi Les Trois Chenes, this has always been one of my favourites. I sometimes think Ford Madox Brown suffered from being too nice and too ordinary. Perhaps if he had had as colourful a life as Rossetti and Millais he might have enjoyed the same level of fame. He was a fabulous artist with a painstaking attention to detail.

Les Trois Chenes from Videix, Limousin, South West France on January 05, 2011:

As a child I used to look at an old book that we had in the house, 'The World's Most Famous Paintings', and this was one of the paintings in the book that I loved most. As you can probably guess, the collection was not really the best, but perhaps it reflected the most popular at the time and I still find this one of the most moving and interesting. Many thanks for reminding me about it.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on September 03, 2010:

I've never been to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, though it's definitely on my list of places I'd like to see. I've been to the Ashmolean in Oxford a few times, and they also have a great collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings.

I agree with your comment about concepts. I've been to quite a few of the Sussex Art Trails this summer and I've noticed that abstract art is becoming increasingly popular. I hardly saw any representational art, let alone figurative art at Arundel this year. As a painter myself, I enjoy all types of art, but I like to see a broader spectrum rather than everyone just following the crowd.

2patricias from Sussex by the Sea on September 02, 2010:

Hi Amanda, Pat knows this painting well, as it is in the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. (That museum has a splendid collection of pre-Raphaelite paintings).

Both of us admire the depth of emotion. It is rather sad that so much contemporary art is concerned with concepts rather than feelings.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 05, 2010:

Hi Billyaustindillon, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub, and thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 05, 2010:

Hi Ladyjane, for me, the sign of a great painting is that it stays with you after the first glance, and this is one that certainly does it for me. It really does make you think about how all migrants must feel.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 05, 2010:

Hi Ethel, they were a special breed, those early emigrants. I'm sure that their descendants have every reason to be proud of them.

billyaustindillon on July 05, 2010:

A great review and I have ancestors that have emigrated from all over the world by sea so this was very touching - the facial expressions are so telling.

ladyjane1 from Texas on July 04, 2010:

I enjoyed this hub, I had never seen this painting before but it does bring a person lots of emotions and thoughts about how it must have been for them and how it still is for people migrating to other countries. My husband just became an American from Russia and I see that same look of wonderment in his eyes as well. Great job. Cheers.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on July 04, 2010:

What stuff they must have been made of. Makes me feel pampered and spoilt. Excellent hub

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 04, 2010:

Hi Amillar, you're so right. How desparate would you have to be to make such a leap into the unknown?

amillar from Scotland, UK on July 04, 2010:

Amanda, this is a beautiful hub. And we think we have worries?

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 04, 2010:

Hi Bayoulady, I'm glad you enjoyed the painting. It's one of my favourites, and it's very well known here in the UK, but I guess you must have your own home-grown favourites! Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on July 04, 2010:

What great insoght and comments on this painting. I have never seen this painting before,

VERY well written, and very interesting.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 03, 2010:

Hi Marie, I'm always touched by this painting. It holds my attention in much the same way as a beautiful piece of music might for someone else. I guess for many present day Americans and Australians there is a similar scene somewhere in their family history.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 03, 2010:

Hi Bob, thank you for missing me! This picture is a personal favourite, probably because of the story it tells. I look at the sad eyes, and the very restrained way that the couple quietly hold hands. It all speaks volumes. I've never seen the original, although I have seen the smaller version in the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge.

VioletSun from Oregon/ Name: Marie on July 03, 2010:

This was a beautiful read into 'The Last Of England" painting. Before starting to read your hub I looked at the painting and it was the sadness of eyes that caught my attention.

diogenes from UK and Mexico on July 03, 2010:

Hi Amanda, we missed you. Touching work of art. We need to examine life through a glass darkly. Bob

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 03, 2010:

Hi Hello, hello, yes the emigrants showed both courage and desparation. They had no telephones to chat long distance to their loved ones. They left knowing that they might never see their friends and families again It's a sobering thing to contemplate.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 03, 2010:

Hi Lynda, some years ago I flew out to visit family in New Zealand, and I sat on the plane alongside a couple who were in the process of emigrating. They were a bit like the pair in the picture, a little shell-shocked and numb in a way, yet at the same time, quietly determined to make a success of it all. I often wonder if they stayed in NZ, but of course it would have been relatively easy to come back again.

I wonder how your parents felt making their great migration in the 50s. Travel was much easier for them than it had been in Victorian times, but the decision was still a huge one. Thanks for sharing your memories here. Times change, but the emotions must still be similar.

Amanda Severn (author) from UK on July 03, 2010:

Hi Paraglider, the emigrants in the 19th century were a special group of people. They really were making a leap into the unknown. They had no TV documentaries to guide them, nor any real guarantee of security on the other side of the ocean. Real courage indeed.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on July 03, 2010:

A real tale-telling picture. Thank you for brining it to our attention. Gosh, that really must have taken such courage or deperation. Especially in those days where they knew nothing but their little village. Even to go to the next village was a great adventure.

lmmartin from Alberta and Florida on July 03, 2010:

Thank you for this fascinating look at a beautiful work of art. Of all the thoughts and feelings it brings to me, there is one very personal aspect to all of this. I wonder if my parents, my dad from Yorkshire and my mom from Scotland, didn't look (emotion wise) and feel much the same in 1959, as they climbed aboard a "Flying Tigers" aircraft with two children, my sister and me (I was six) and headed off for western Canada. Of course, no great travail like the voyage we see embarking here, but not the stuff of air travel today -- a stop in Greenland, Gander Newfoundland, Toronto, Winnipeg and finally their destination, Calgary. I still have faint memories of my family's great 'migration.' It is the emotion portrayed on the face of the couple that makes me think of my parents, and how they may have felt leaving their home behind and heading out to the great prairies of Canada. Excuse my waxing personal, but wanted to share the feeling. Thank you. Lynda

Dave McClure from Worcester, UK on July 03, 2010:

Very different from our 'hop on a plane' society. One way voyages, into the unknown, must have taken a lot of courage.

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