The Last of England: Painting

Contributed by Birmingham Museums

Ford Madox Brown (1821-1893), The Last of England, oil on panel, 1852-1855. Copyright Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery

Inspired by his friend Thomas Woolner's emigration to Australia. Brown was still painting it when Woolner returned.The painting tells the story of the emigration of a young family from England; part of the great emigrating movement of the 1850s, as people sought new lives around the British Empire. Here, compelled to leave all they have known and loved, their grim stoicism testifies to their determination.

The Last of England also tells the story of the artist, Ford Madox Brown. In 1852, he was "intensely miserable, very hard up and not a little mad". The main figures are portraits of Brown and his beloved model, Emma Hill, whom he married in 1853. They form a solid unit, bound together in their love. It is a painting full of human emotion, incident and drama; from the vulnerability of their baby's tiny hand to the savage anger of the figures in the background.

The painting is also part of the story of Birmingham's cultural life. Now the most famous painting in the museum, it has inspired generations of Birmingham people.

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