Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

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Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Last week I treated myself to a day trip to Liverpool, a city which was some eight miles from my birthplace. I had not visited there for a number of years but decided that I should take the opportunity to visit one of their art galleries.  Although the Tate Liverpool is very popular with tourists, I much prefer the old established Walker Art Gallery.

Andrew Barclay Walker (1824-1893)

In 1873 Andrew Barclay Walker, a Liverpool brewer and alderman offered to present a gallery to Liverpool to commemorate his term as mayor. Although he was neither an art collector nor a patron of the arts, it was believed that Walker wanted to improve the public image of brewing and alcohol at a time when the temperance movement was popular and his donation of £20,000 towards the building of a new gallery would, he considered, counter the diatribe of the temperance folk.  The foundation stone was laid the following year and in 1877 the 15th Earl of Derby opened the Walker Art Gallery on September 6th.    

Due to Covid restrictions I had to obtain a time slot for my visit which just gave me enough time to visit the rooms housing their permanent collection.  Strangely, the rooms were almost empty and I felt as if I had the gallery to myself !  In this blog I want to take a look at some of my favourite painting in a hope that it may encourage you to pay a visit to this wonderful gallery.

Crazy Kate by William James Bishop

My first selection is a small and unobtrusive painting by the nineteenth century Manchester-born English artist William James Bishop entitled Crazy Kate. This strange title derives from a character in William Cowper’s 1785 blank verse (un-rhyming verse) poem, The Task. The verse tells of the fate of the young girl Kate, whom we see bare-footed in a ferocious storm, clutching a pin, which as the poem tells us, she prizes beyond food , clothes and comfort

Crazy Kate by William Cowper

There often wanders one whom better days

Saw better clad, in cloak of satin trimmed

With lace, and hat with splendid ribbon bound.

A serving-maid was she, and fell in love

With one who left her, went to sea, and died.

Her fancy followed him through foaming waves

To distant shores, and she would sit and weep

At what a sailor suffers; fancy too

(Delusive most where warmest wishes are)

Would oft anticipate his glad return

And dream of transports she was not to know.

She heard the doleful tidings of his death

And never smiled again. And now she roams

The dreary waste; there spends the livelong day,

And there, unless when Charity forbids,

The livelong night. A tattered apron hides,

Worn as a cloak, and hardly hides a gown

More tattered still; and both but ill conceal

A bosom heaved with never-ceasing sighs.

She begs an idle pin of all she meets,

And hoards them in her sleeve, but needful food,

Though pressed with hunger oft, or comelier clothes,

Though pinched with cold, asks never. Kate is crazed.

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Springtime in Eskdale by James McIntosh Patrick (1935)

The next painting is a landscape work by the Dundee-born artist, James McIntosh Patrick entitled Springtime in Eskdale which he completed in 1935. It is a work which I featured in my blog ten years ago and it was good to revisit this beautiful work. It is a detailed landscape painting of The Crooks in Eskdalemuir, Dumfriesshire which was the birthplace of the famous civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford.  This painting by Patrick was completed in 1934 and was to mark the centenary of Telford’s death.  In the middle ground we can see people visiting a cottage whilst further back we can just make out a farmer ploughing his land.  In the distance, we see a small river at the foot of a line of hills, which rises into the background.  The artist’s view of the scene is from a somewhat elevated position looking down at the farmland. The inclusion of a road in the foreground is a clever way in which the artist has encouraged us to follow it with our eyes and thus explore the middle ground and background.  One of the most well-defined aspects of the painting is the way he has painted the trees.  McIntosh Patrick was a great believer that they were one of nature’s greatest gifts to mankind and he would put a lot of effort into their depiction in order for us to be more appreciative of what Mother Nature has bestowed upon us.

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire

Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire by John Edward Newton

Another landscape work which caught my eye was John Edward Newton’s painting Mill on the Alyn, Denbighshire.  John Edward Newton was a member of the Liverpool Academy, exhibiting at its galleries between 1856 and 1867 and at the Royal Academy in London between 1862 and 1887. Like other Liverpool School painters, he was highly influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites in their use of pure glazes over a white ground and meticulous attention to detail.   His tightly executed and highly accurate brushwork is part of a larger movement inspired by Ruskin’s call for ‘truth to nature’ originally exemplified in the Pre-Raphaelite Circle’s attention to detail and meticulous handling of ‘wet-on-wet’ painting techniques.

The Stonebreaker by John Brett (1858)

I came across this painting in the nineties when I was doing some research for my daughter with regards a number of paintings featuring stonebreakers.  Gustave Courbet and Henry Wallis had painted different versions based on the same subject.   John Brett was born in in 1831 and was a British artist associated with the Pre-Raphaelite movement.  However his masterpiece has always been considered to be his painting The Stonebreaker which he completed in 1858.  It is a work of two halves.  The setting is a beautiful landscape with its vast meadows and grove, indicating paradise and is captured with remarkable accuracy by Brett who was influenced by Ruskin’s adage that landscapes should be depicted with  ‘truth to nature’.  The foreground, in contrast, is enveloped in weeds, rocks and a dead tree. We observe a young boy accompanied by a little puppy which is playing away beside him. 

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The Stone Breakers by Gustave Courbet (1849). Destroyed during World War II

As was with Courbet’s painting, it portrays the poor but in a very different light.   Brett’s depiction does not have the same claustrophobic atmosphere of Courbet’s painting, nor does it contain the hopelessness of Henry Wallis’s 1857 version. 

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The Stonebreaker by Henry Wallis (1857). Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Despite it not being a sombre work depicting cruelty, it is a painting that can still be categorised as a Realist painting depicting the boy, although well dressed, having to undertake brutal and laborious work. Despite his playful pet he has no time to stop and play with it because he is working hard to earn his food.

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Isabella by John Everett Millais (1849)

I do love the painting Isabella by Millais but I will not go into great detail with regards this painting or the enthralling story behind the depiction as my blog in 2012 had an in-depth look at the work. However it is still one of my favourites and the story behind the depiction is fascinating. I do like the vivid colours of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Henry Holiday - Dante and Beatrice - Google Art Project.jpg

Dante and Beatrice by Henry Holiday (1883)

Henry Holiday was a British historical genre and landscape painter, stained-glass designer, illustrator and sculptor. He was part of the Pre-Raphaelite school of art.  His 1883 painting, Dante and Beatrice is a painting that is considered to be Holiday’s most important work of art.  What we see is based on Dante’s 1294 autobiographical work La Vita Nuova which describes his love for Beatrice Portinari. Dante concealed his love by pretending to be attracted to other women. The painting depicts an incident when Beatrice, having heard gossip relating to this, refuses to speak to him. The event is shown as Beatrice and two other women walk past the Santa Trinita Bridge in Florence.   Beatrice wears a white dress and walks beside her friend Monna Vanna, with Beatrice’s maidservant lagging slightly behind.  Holiday was anxious that the painting should be historically accurate and in 1881 travelled to Florence to carry out research. He discovered that in the 13th century the Lungarno, the street on the north side of the River Arno between the Ponte Vecchio which can be seen in the background and the Ponte Santa Trinita, was paved with bricks and that there were shops in the area; these are shown in the painting. He also learnt that the Ponte Vecchio had been destroyed in a flood in 1235. It was being rebuilt between 1285 and 1290 and in the painting, it is shown covered in scaffolding. When he died in 1927, Holiday was described as “the last Pre-Raphaelite”.

Going to Market, 1860 - 1860 - John Lee

Going to the Market by John Ingle Lee (1860)

My next two choices are paintings by the Liverpool-born English artist John Ingle Lee.  Going to the Market was exhibited in 1860 at the Liverpool Academy under the title The Young Carriers. The fresh mountainous landscape and the children are possibly both intended to be Welsh. John Ingle Lee was born in 1839, the third son of Henry Boswell Lee and Emily Sarah Ingle. His father sold straw bonnets and the raw materials for their manufacture.

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George Henry Lee, Liverpool in its 1970’s prime

The family business developed into the famous Liverpool department store, George Henry Lee, which was founded in 1853.  By the late 1850s, as John Ingle Lee was starting his artistic career, his father retired from the retail trade, and passed the business to his sons George and Henry.  In 1874, the last of the Lee sons retired and control passed to Thomas Oakshott, who in 1887 became the first tradesman to become Lord Mayor of Liverpool, an appointment which added to the prestige of the enterprise.  Shortly after the end of the First World War, the Oakshott family sold the business to the American millionaire, Gordon Selfridge.   It was acquired in 1940 by the John Lewis Partnership.

Sweethearts and Wives

Sweethearts and Wives by John Ingle Lee (1860)

One of Ingle’s best-known works and one of the best-known Liverpool Pre-Raphaelite paintings was his painting entitled Sweethearts and Wives.  One can see by the way Lee has mastered the sharp-focus technique and the use of bright colour that he was influenced by the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. His depiction of soldiers or sailors parting from their families was commonplace in the Victorian era.  The men in the painting are from HMS Majestic, an ex-Crimea warship anchored in the River Mersey as part of the port defences.  Lee’s depiction has accurately recorded every detail including the view across the River Mersey towards Birkenhead and local landmarks such as St. Mary’s Church and Bidston Windmill stand out on the horizon.  Of the thirteen pictures he is recorded as having exhibited during his lifetime, only six are known today, of which this is the most ambitious.  The work of this Liverpool painter is rare and very few works by him are known.

Millie Smith Ford Madox Brown

Millie by Ford Madox Brown (1846)

It was in 1846 when twenty-five-year-old Ford Madox Brown painted my next selected painting. It is entitled Millie and is a portrait of Millie Smith, the daughter of Ford Madox Brown’s landlord at Southend where he stayed with his own small daughter, Emma Lucy on his return from Rome after the death of his first wife, Elizabeth Bromley. She died in Paris of consumption during their return journey from Italy.  The child’s head is almost “cartoonishly” big, her eyes even more so, as she gazes out at us.  She sits at a table with a formal pose.  In the foreground is the table, on top of which is a rose-coloured tablecloth which has been partly folded back.  Two small flowers rest abandoned on the uncovered part of the mahogany table.  Look at Millie’s facial expression.  She is not smiling as she scrutinizes us.  There is something mechanical about her pose as if she has received strict instructions as how she should obediently conduct herself.  Ford Madox Brown went on to paint many child portraits similar to this one.

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Kim Cattrall by Samira Addo (2018)

I will end my choices with a portrait by the young artist Samira Addo, who with over a thousand other artists entered a television art competition.  She won the Sky Portrait Artist of the Year competition in 2018 and the prize was a sum of money and a commission to paint the portrait of actress, Kim Cattrall.  I have selected this work, not because of its beauty, although I acknowledge the extraordinary talent shown by the artist, but because, in my opinion, of the poor choice of where it has been hung by the museum authorities.

The unveiling ceremony

The portrait is displayed in the 18th century room, alongside paintings by some of the most famous portrait artists in British history, including Thomas Gainsborough, Joseph Wright of Derby and Sir Joshua Reynolds and there lies the problem.  It is a contemporary work of art.  It is an accomplished portrait but it just should not have been hung in that room.  It is a very bright and colourful work of art, in stark contrast with the somewhat dark room itself and the other portrait paintings on the walls of the room which have the dark brown subdued colouring which we associate with older portraiture.  It just does not fit in with these other works.

If you ever visit Liverpool I believe you will not be disappointed in the works of art on show at the Walker Art Gallery, especially if you like Pre-Raphaelite paintings.

Spirit of Justice by Ford Madox Brown

Spirit of Justice by Ford Madox Brown (1845)

I am returning to the artist Ford Madox Brown and for My Daily Art Display today I am taking a look at one of his earliest works, which he completed in 1845 when he was twenty four years of age, and which is entitled Study for Spirit of Justice.  Before I look in detail at the painting and the reason why the artist painted the picture let me go over with you the early life of the artist and his ancestors.  Much of the information regarding Ford Madox Brown’s family tree comes from a biographical volume written by his grandson, Ford Hueffer, later known as Ford Madox Ford, entitled Ford Madox Brown, a record of his life and works, which was published in 1896.  I also have to acknowledge the work The Ancestry and Families of Ford Madox Brownby W.D.Padden,  a professor of English Literature at the University of Kansas. Ford Madox Brown’s  paternal grandfather, John Brown, was the son of a common labourer and an active member of the Seceders, a strict Scottish sect, linked to the United Secession Church,  which followed the 18th century Secession movement from the Church of Scotland, and which later became the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland.  He, like his father, followed the strict doctrines of the sect but that all changed when he went to the University of St Andrews in Edinburgh and he began to see the failures and flaws of some of the sect’s doctrines.   After his university studies Ford Madox Brown’s grandfather became a doctor and was also the author of many medical books as well as holding down the position as a university lecturer.  He appears to have been a very colourful character as it was reported that during his lectures he would take vigorous mouthfuls of a mixture of whiskey and laudanum in order to achieve a suitable degree of inspiration.  Doctor Brown married Ford Madox Brown’s grandmother, Euphemia, in 1765 and the couple went on to have twelve children of whom eight survived the father. Ford Brown, Ford Madox Brown’s father, was born in 1780.  He became a purser in the Royal Navy in 1800 and remained sea-going in the military for fourteen years before taking a shore-based post.  A year later in April 1815, Ford Brown married Caroline Madox.  Caroline was the daughter of Tristram Maries Madox, who was a member of Her Majesty’s Bodyguard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms.  Their role was to act as guards or attendants to the sovereign on state occasions.   Biographical notes on the couple state that they lived on the continent “for reasons of thrift”.  Their first child, a daughter Eliza Coffin Brown was born in 1819 and two years later on April 16th 1821 their first son Ford Madox Brown was born in Calais.  Ford Madox Brown’s father had to retire from the Royal Navy in 1834 following a stroke.  Ford Madox Brown’s mother died in Calais in 1839 when the artist was nineteen years old and his sister died the following year aged just twenty one.

Ford Madox Brown and his family had moved around the continent quite a lot, probably due to the nature of his father’s work and he received his formal art education at various academies.  In Bruges he studied under the Belgian neo-classicist painter Albert Gregorious, and later was a student of the Flemish painter Pieter van Hanselaer at Ghent both of whom were former pupils of Jacques-Louis David.   From Ghent he went to study in Antwerp for three years where his teacher was Gustav Wappers, the leader of the Belgian Romantic School.  The standard of his art education was high and more importantly to his family, much cheaper than if he had studied in Paris.   In 1840 after the deaths of his mother and sister, he and his father moved to Paris.  His father died there in 1842 and was buried at Montmarte.

So to My Daily Art Display’s featured painting.  In London, the old Houses of Parliament had been destroyed by fire in 1834 and a new Houses of Parliament at Westminster were built. Competitions were held for appropriate designs (‘cartoons’), with a number of leading artists commissioned to take part.   To organise and oversee this project, a Royal Commission had been appointed in 1841, the President of which was Queen Victoria’s new consort Prince Albert.   In all there were three annual competitions and Ford Madox Brown decided to enter a work for the third and final one in 1845.  The competition rules were that each artist would submit a full sized cartoon (preparatory drawing) with specimens of fresco or other techniques suitable for murals.  The design of their submitted work had to be scenes from British History or Literature or personifications of abstract representations of Religion, Justice and the Spirit of Chivalry.

Before us we see the Study for Spirit and Justice, a pencil, watercolour and bodycolour work, the preparatory drawing of which he submitted to the adjudicators of the competition.  It measured 5 meters x 3meters which was to be the actual size of the mural if it was selected.  His reasoning behind his submission was that it reflected patriotism and it highlighted his sympathy with the oppressed.  In it we see Anglo Saxons defeated by foreign invaders and abused by a rich baron.  In the foreground we have a lone grieving widow, clutching her baby with another of her youngsters holding on to her skirt.  To the right of her, we see her parents who are unable to help her.  She is appealing to Justice against the oppression of the wicked but powerful Baron.  We see the baron on the left in his armour with his deceitful advisor whispering advice.  Above them are more armed barons who are there to administer justice and further back we have the bishops and peers who represent the Lords Spiritual and the Lords Temporal and who are an allegorical representation of the House of Lords.    At the top of the painting we see the blindfolded woman – Justice.  To her right we have the figures of Mercy and Erudition and to her left we have Truth and Wisdom.

Ford Madox Brown’s submission did not win a prize but nevertheless it was well received by the artistic community,  both artists and critics alike,  and a picture of his cartoon actually appeared in the competition catalogue.  Benjamin Robert Haydon, the English historical painter and writer was dismissive of the result of the competition stating:

“…The only bit of fresco fit to look at is by Ford Madox Brown.  It is a figure of “Justice” and exquisite as far as that figure goes…”

The young Dante Gabriel Rossetti loved the work and cut out the picture from the catalogue and had hung in his room.

It is an interesting work and one which would have looked good on one of the walls of the Houses of Parliament, but sadly it was not to be.

The Irish Girl and The English Boy by Ford Madox Brown

Manchester Art Gallery exhibition

The other day I went to Manchester to see the Ford Madox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.  The exhibition opened on September 24th and runs until January 29th 2012 and I strongly recommend you make the effort to visit the city and take in this superb show which displays 140 public and private works from this talented 19th century painter.  I have already  featured two of Ford Madox Brown’s paintings, The Last of England (June 15th) and Manfred on the Jungfrau (July 21st), the former I saw when I visited the Birmingham Art Gallery and the latter which I had hoped to view when I went to Manchester a few months ago had been withdrawn from the gallery for some restoration work prior to this new exhibition.   Both of these works are on show at the current Manchester Exhibition.

I will, in the coming months, review more of Ford Madox Brown’s works,  which I saw at the exhibition, but I need to space them out a little otherwise I will be accused of featuring one artist too often.

Like most people, I had seen many of Ford Madox Brown’s paintings before, in books or on the internet, but what I had not realized was that he had completed many portraits of which a number were on display at the exhibition.  However, there is nothing more true than the saying “you cannot please all the people all the time” for as I researched today’s blog and was still buoyed up with my admiration for Brown’s portraits,  I came across the Daily Telegraph’s art critic’s, Alastair Smart, view of the exhibition and his assessment of some of the paintings, especially his portraiture.  He wrote:

“…Despite the show’s claims to the contrary, Brown’s portraits and biblical dramas aren’t up to much either: his figures are just too awkward in facial gesture, one toothy contortion after another…”

How disappointing to read that when I was still so enthused with what I had seen.  I loved his small portraits.  I did get some consolation however when I re-read the opening line of his article which stated quite bluntly:

“….First, a confession: I utterly loathe the Pre-Raphaelites. Oh, what a mawkish, melodramatic and clichéd bunch…”

The journalist did however go on to qualify his bold statement by saying that he realized Ford Madox Brown was not a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but countered that by telling us that he did have a close association with the three founder members.  Guilty by association ?  Having said all that I will not be deflected from my proposed look at two of Brown’s small portraits, which I loved, even if the knowledgeable art critic disliked them. 

The Irish Girl by Ford Madox Brown (1860)

For My Daily Art Display today I am featuring two portraits, The Irish Girl and The English Boy as they were hung next to each other at the exhibition and in some ways they are connected.  It was the coming together of these “two old friends”, who were separated forty-seven years ago.  The man, who commissioned the paintings, was a Leeds stockbroker called Thomas Edward Plint, who was a patron of Ford Madox Brown, and an important Pre Raphaelite art collector.  In 1850, he had commissioned Brown to paint Work, and out of that commission came the painting, The Irish Girl, which also happens to be featured on all the exhibition publicity material.  To my mind this is a beautiful and haunting painting.  This small (almost 28cms square) oil on canvas work was completed by Brown in 1860 and is normally to be found exhibited at the Yale Centre of British Art.  The Yale Center for British Art, which is in New Haven, Connecticut, is a public art museum and research institute for the study of British art and culture. It was presented to Yale University by Paul Mellon who was in the Class of 1929 at Yale.  The Centre houses the largest collection of British art outside the United Kingdom.

In comparison to the portrait of the young English boy the young girl looks slightly nervous and somewhat troubled.  She has real beauty.  There is nothing idealized about this portrait.  Her haunting loveliness is plain to see and yet the difference between her and the English boy could not be starker.  Unlike the boy, she looks worldly–wise.  Her jet black hair, her dazzling brown eyes and her painted red lips are all part of her exquisiteness.   She has tilted her head a little to one side and her eyes focus on something off to the side.  When Ford Madox Brown was looking for Irish models for his painting Work he came across this young girl selling oranges and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to paint her portrait.   We see the fingers of her hand appearing from inside her red paisley shawl which is tightly wrapped around her and the colour of which complements the colour of her lips.  Between her fingers, she is gently holding a sprig of cornflowers. 

The English Boy by Ford Madox Brown (1860)

The portrait which hung next to the Irish Girl was entitled The English Boy and was the companion piece to the Irish Girl.  In this case the young child depicted was no stranger to Brown.  It was his five year old son, Oliver, and this too was painted in 1860.  It is slightly larger than the Irish Girl, measuring 39cms x 33cms.  This portrait is owned by the Manchester Art Gallery, which acquired it in 1932.  Although a companion piece to the Irish Girl they couldn’t be more different.  In this portrait,  the young child stares straight at us with a self-assured gaze.   It is a deadpan expression and we wonder what is going through his mind.   His cheeks are slightly flushed and this colouring in some way matches the red shawl and lips of the Irish Girl.   He wears a white smock over a red checked dress and on top of his head, sitting at a slightly jaunty angle, is a brown straw hat.  In his hands he clutches on tightly to the popular child’s toys of the time, a top and whip.  The way in which he holds the toys in some way reminds us of royal paintings where the subject holds a sceptre and orb.

Despite what our knowledgeable journalist would have us believe I don’t find these portraits in any way awkward in facial gesture.  I find them to be simply fascinating studies of two young children.

Manfred on the Jungfrau by Ford Madox Brown

Manfred on the Jungfrau by Ford Madox Brown (1842)

My Daily Art Display today once again has a connection with a number of blogs I have done earlier.  On July 14th I showcased The Funeral of Shelley by Fournier and one of the mourners at this event was the English Romantic poet Lord Byron who is centre stage in today’s offering.  On June 15th I featured the artists Ford Madox Brown and today he is once again the artist who painted today’s work. Finally, this is yet another work of art which has a connection with a poem.  My Daily Art Display painting today is entitled Manfred on the Jungfrau and is by the English painter Ford Madox Brown.

Ford Madox Brown, although his parents were English, was born in Calais in 1821.   His father, Ford Brown was a ship’s purser in the navy and his mother, Caroline Madox, came from an old Kentish family.  He initially studied art in Belgium, in Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp.  One of his teachers was the Belgian painter Gustave Wappers.  Madox Brown also spent time in France and Italy before coming to England in 1845.  He married his first wife Elisabeth Bromley in 1841, who was his cousin, and they went on to have a daughter, Lucy.   In that same year he had his first painting exhibited at the Royal Academy.   In the winter of 1845 he travelled to Switzerland and Rome.  During his time in the Italian capital he visited the studios of a group of German Romantic painters who had been sarcastically termed the Nazarenes as they would go around dressed in flowing robes and wearing their hair long, in a biblical-like style.  The aim of their artistic style was simply to add a kind of honesty and spirituality to their paintings which they believed had been missing from contemporary works of art and in some ways it was a reaction against Neoclassicism and the rigidity of Academicism.  Their philosophies would influence the Pre-Raphaelite movement

In 1846 Elizabeth Bromley died of consumption.  Five years later Madox Brown married for the second time, this time to Emma Hill.  The couple already at that time had a two-year old daughter, Catherine.  In 1848 he met, for the first time, Daniel Rossetti and Holman Hunt, two of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  Ford Madox Brown was never a member of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood although he was closely associated with the group of artists and in fact Rossetti approached him and asked to be allowed to work under his tutelage at his studio.   Madox Brown had a varied career but although he was highly thought of by his contemporaries, he never achieved popular success.  Madox Brown painted many historical pictures and for most of the 1880’s he worked on subjects of local social history for Manchester Town Hall.   Ford Madox Brown died in 1893, three years after the death of his wife Emma.

So what has the painting to do with Lord Byron?   The Manfred of the painting’s title was the central character and romantic hero in Lord Byron’ famous dramatic poem Manfred and the painting depicts a scene from the poem.   The twenty-four year old poet, Lord Byron, had returned to London after a long period of travelling around Portugal, the Mediterranean and Aegean Sea Europe, in 1812 and had the first two parts of a four-part narrative poem published.  They were hailed by the literary critics as masterpieces and Byron became an overnight success and a leader of the social and literary circles of London.  However his fall from grace came shortly after with his well publicized affair with the married socialite Caroline Lamb, who famously said of Byron that he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.   The affair, which lasted six months, was broken off by Byron but his spurned lover continued to pursue him.   Byron turned his affections to Annabella Millbank.  She was so different in character to Caroline Lamb.  She was from a wealthy family, very well educated and a somewhat prim religious woman with very strict morals.  After two years of being pursued by Byron she agreed to marry him in 1814.  The marriage was doomed to failure because of the complete difference in their characters.

In 1815, Byron’s financial situation was dire as he refused to sell his work as he fervently believed the sums offered were too small.  He struggled to sell property to bolster his finances and he became depressed with life in general.  He drank heavily and became violent towards his wife.  His wife actually believed he was going mad.   Byron had an affair with a chorus girl that year despite his wife being pregnant with their first child, a daughter Ada, who was born in the December of 1815.  His then turned to his half sister, Augusta Leigh, the daughter from Byron’s father’s first wife, for friendship but this led to what many believe was an incestuous relationship.    Finally the marriage split asunder and the couple separated in January 1816.  The separation was bitter amidst rumours of marital violence, adultery with an actress and incest, all of which scandalised the public.  Incest at the time was a very serious offence and it is believed that Byron’s hasty departure from the country that year was because of his fear of prosecution.

So what has all this to do with today’s painting?  Whilst Byron, who was now living at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland, toured the Bernese Alps he wrote most of his great dramatic narrative poem Manfred.  The poem recounts the tale of this Alpine nobleman who had an incestuous relationship with his sister, Astarte, and who not being able to come to terms with this relationship, committed suicide.  Manfred is wracked with guilt blaming himself for her death and conjures up seven spirits from whom he seeks forgetfulness so as the death of his sister would cease to haunt him.  They cannot help and he himself attempts suicide and one of these attempts is portrayed in Ford Madox Brown’s painting in which we see Manfred about to hurl himself off the top of the mountain, the Jungfrau.  The poem tells of this time:

“..And you, ye crags upon whose extreme edge
I stand, and on the torrent’s brink beneath
Behold the tall pines dwindled as to shrubs
In dizziness of distance, when a leap,
A stir, a motion, even a breath, would bring
My breast upon its rocky bosom’s bed
To rest for ever – wherefore do I pause?
…Thou winged and cloud-cleaving minister,
Whose happy flight is highest into heaven,
Well may’st thou swoop so near me…
…How beautiful is all this visible world!
How glorious in its action and itself!…”

 His suicide attempt fails as a fur-clad chamois hunter, whom we see in the painting standing behind Manfred, rescues him before he can leap to his death.  In the painting, Madox Brown depicts the tormented Manfred holding his head in his hands with his face contorted with anguish as he prepares to end his life.  His red robes, which flutter violently in the mountain wind, contrast starkly with the clear blue sky.  In the background to the left we can just make out a castle, which to me, resembles Neuschwanstein, the Disney-like edifice which we see on so many pictures and postcards.

It cannot be just coincidental that Byron having had an incestuous affair with his step sister should write a poetic story about another incestuous relationship and its dire consequences and many believe that his poem was about himself and his earlier relationship which scandalised society.

I had hoped to see the painting yesterday when I visited the Manchester Art Gallery but alas it has been taken down for some restoration work in preparation for the forthcoming Ford Madox Brown exhibition which will be held in this gallery in September.  I will return then and cast my eye over Manfred and his tortured state of mind.