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Work
painting

Brown, Ford Madox
Europe, United Kingdom, England, Manchester
1852-1865

1885.1
First floor: Pre-Raphaelites

oil paint
137 x 197.3 cm

More Details

Work 1852-1865
Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893
Oil on canvas

The moral value of work was much discussed
in the middle of the 19th century.
This painting reflects that debate.

One day, as Brown walked to his Hampstead studio,
he caught sight of a group of navvies digging a drain.

He had been reading Thomas Carlyle's Past and Present,
which discusses the nobility of labour.
It occurred to him that navvies were as worth painting
as any group of picturesque Italian peasants
who graced the walls of London art galleries.

He made these constructors of the modern world
the central focus of his painting,
surrounding them with those who do not need to work
or are deprived of meaningful work.
In contrast, on the right, Thomas Carlyle watches
as he converses with Rev. F D Maurice,
founder of the first college for working men.
These are brainworkers,
the cause of purposeful work and happiness in others.