Desperately struggling to solve their financial troubles, millions of British citizens during the nineteenth century abandoned their homeland in search of better fortune overseas. This emigration crisis touched Ford Madox Brown in a very personal way. In 1852, he watched his close friend and member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, Thomas Woolner, depart for the Australian gold fields. This event greatly distressed Madox Brown, who began painting The Last of England that same year.
Although Madox Brown was never invited to join the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, his paintings were typical of the Pre-Raphaelite style. The Last of England is an intensely-colored, evenly-lit painting that centers around a young middle-class couple leaving England forever. As the English cliffs fade away in the distance, the couple passes further into the unknown. The sky is dark, the ocean seems to extend without end, and no one in the boat can be sure of what lies ahead. Defenseless against nature's will, the figures' clothing is little match for the coldness of the wind, and their single umbrella cannot even completely protect them from the ocean's spray.
1. How does the painting's circular shape affect how one views the painting? What might the painting's shape signify about the emigrants' journey?
2. What details and technical elements of the painting heighten a viewer's sympathy for the emigrants?
3. Contrast the position and facial expression of the man to those of the woman. Do these differences imply distinct attitudes about emigration? Does one figure appear braver or more heroic than the other?
4. Madox Brown explained that "without regard to the art of any period or country, I have tried to render this scene as it would appear." Yet Madox Brown's inclusion of seemingly unimportant details, such as the cabbages hanging from the boat, has been criticized as detracting from the event depicted. Do you agree, or is it possible that Madox Brown's realistic details might enhance the tragedy of the event in some way?
5. although the emigrants' departure from England is generally accepted as a somber event, are there any elements of the painting that might suggest a feeling of hope?
Last modified 28 May 2007