Ford Madox Brown was born to British parents, Ford Brown (d.1842) and Caroline Madox (d.1839), on 16 April 1821 in Calais, France. His father had retired after the Napoleonic wars, having been a ship’s purser.
Ford Madox Brown spent much of his youth in France and Belgium, and he also visited England. The family was not wealthy, and because of the amount of travelling between countries, Brown’s early education was erratic, although he was exposed to many artistic influences.
He trained to be an artist at the academies of Bruges, Ghent and Antwerp between 1835 and 1839, where he enjoyed studying European painting in the museums. He was particularly interested in portrait and history paintings, and this stayed with him throughout his career, culminating in historical murals commissioned for Manchester Town Hall in 1878.
In 1840, Ford Madox Brown’s cousin, Elisabeth Bromley (1818 – 1846) joined him in Antwerp where she modelled for his painting The Execution. They fell in love and were married on 3 April 1841. Tragedy followed: Brown’s father died in 1842, shortly followed by the death of his first daughter. His wife Elisabeth died of consumption in 1846, leaving Brown to look after their baby daughter Emma Lucy Madox Brown, who was born in 1843. Emma later became an artist and married William Michael Rossetti in 1874.
Studies for Work, Ford Madox Brown, 1855 © Tate, London 2006