Information

This smaller version of 'Work' was commissioned by James Leathart in 1859 for £315. It was completed in 1863, the same year as the original (now in Manchester Art Gallery). The two compositions are close though Brown notably replaced the portrait of his wife Emma, who sat for the lady holding a blue parasol on the left, with a portrait of Maria Leathart, wife of his patron.The subject for Work was thought up in 1852 and the original painting was commissioned in 1856 by T. E. Plint. The composition centres around navies laying sewage pipes in Hampstead, London. These are the heroes of modern life who represent 'the outward and visible type of work.' To the right are the 'brainworkers:' F. D. Maurice, preacher and founder of the Working Men's College, and the essayist Thomas Carlyle. Behind them lie the Irish and itinerant workers who sleep because they can find no work. To the left is an impoverished flower seller let down by the fact that he has never 'been taught to work' and a lady carrying out religious work, distributing tracts (Ford Madox Brown, The Exhibition of 'Work' and other Paintings, 1865, pp. 8-9). The painting also includes those who have no need to work including a rich man and his daughter at the back of the scene on horseback. The ideas expressed in the painting show the influence of Carlyle's writings and the sociological concepts which Henry Mayhew published in London Labour and the London Poor (1851). In 1866 Leathart lent the painting to the Mechanics' Institute in Newcastle where it was unfavourably described as 'one of the extraordinary mistakes of the present day' in the 'Newcastle Daily Journal.'LM

The subject, of work in all its forms, was inspired by Brown seeing navvies at work laying drains. Each character or group is of symbolic significance, from the navvies representing physical work to the gentleman and his daughter on horseback who are rich enough not to have to work. The young lady giving out religious tracts is doing 'God's work', while the itinerant farm workers fall asleep under the trees are destitute for the want of work.The two gentlemen on the right were described by the artist as the 'brainworkers' who seem to be idle, but they are the source of social reform and prosperity. The potboy with his beer tray carries a copy of 'The Times' under his arm. Literacy was seen as the key to social improvement and political power for the working class. The Masonic symbols of trowel and set-square in the foreground represent another means of advancement for tradesmen.

  • Bequeathed by James Richardson Holliday, 1927.
  • © Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

Makers

Association Artist Organisation
Artist Ford Madox Brown -

Inscriptions

Type Position(s) Method Date(s) Notes
F Madox Brown 1863
Signature and date bottom right Painted 1863 Red paint.
 

Exhibitions

Catalogue No. Venue Date(s)
Loan Collection of Works by English Pre-Raphaelite Painters lent by the Art Gallery Committee of the Birmingham Corporation
27 National Gallery British Art (now Tate Gallery, London) 1911-12 - 1912-03
 
Cartwright Memorial Hall: Coming of Age
56 Cartwright Memorial Hall, Bradford 1925 - 1925
 
Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
11 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 1947 - 1947
 
The Pre-Raphaelites - Their Friends and their Followers
11 Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight, Liverpool 1948-06-14 - 1948-08-29
 
English Paintings from Birmingham
58 Agnew's, London 1957 - 1957
 
Primitives to Picasso
198 Royal Academy, London 1962 - 1962
 
Peintures et Aquarelles Anglaises, 1700-1900, du Musée de Birmingham
89 Musée des Beaux Arts, Lyons 1966-10-23 - 1966-11-20
 
British Royal Family Exhibition
89 Seibu Department Store, Tokyo 1967-10-06 - 1967-10-18
 
Paintings from the Leathart Collection
20 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle 1968-10-07 - 1968-11-18
 
Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881
11 National Portrait Gallery, London 1981-09-25 - 1981-01-10
 
Pre-Raphaelite Art from Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
3 Hong Kong Museum of Art 1984 - 1984
 
Londoners
- Museum of London 1987-04-28 - 1987-08-02
 
Pre-Raphaelite Painters and Patrons in the North East
13 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne 1989 - 1990
 
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
74 Seattle Art Museum 1995-03-09 - 1995-05-07
74 Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio 1995-05-27 - 1995-07-16
74 Delaware Art Museum, Wilmington 1995-08-11 - 1995-10-15
74 The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas 1995-11-04 - 1996-01-02
74 High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia 1996-01-23 - 1996-04-10
74 Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery 1996-05-26 - 1996-09-29
 
Work, Rest and Play
- Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery 2007-01-27 - 2007-04-15
- Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne 2007-04-28 - 2007-07-15
- National Gallery, London 2007-07-26 - 2007-10-14
 
British Vision: Observation and Imagination in British Art 1750-1950
22 Ghent Museum of Fine Arts 2007 - 2008
 
Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite
39 Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery 2008-08-27 - 2008-12-14
 
The Pre-Raphaelites
57 Nationalmuseum, Stockholm 2009-02-26 - 2009-05-24
 

Literature

Author(s) Date(s) Publisher Pages
Loan Collection of Works by English Pre-Raphaelite Painters lent by the Art Gallery Committee of the Birmingham Corporation
1911 National Gallery British Art, London pp. 9-10
 
The Pre-Raphaelites - Their Friends and their Followers
1948 Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight p. 6
 
City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham: Catalogue of Paintings
1960 City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham -
 
The Listener
Michael Kitson 1965-09-09 - pp. 382-383
 
Paintings from the Leathart Collection
1968 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle pp. 10-11
 
Victorian Artists in the City
E. D. H. Johnson 1980 Pergamon Press, New York, Oxford pp. 142-151
 
Thomas Carlyle 1795-1881
Richard Ormond 1981 National Portrait Gallery, London pp. 12-13
 
Londoners
Celina Fox 1987 Museum of London pp. 180-262; repr. p. 180
 
Classroom Gallery
John West, Linda Burridge 1992 Elm Publications, Huntingdon, Cambrigdeshire pp. 290-294; repr. p. 290
 
Pre-Raphaelite Painters and Patrons in the North East
1989 Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne -
 
Visions of Love and Life: Pre-Raphaelite Art from the Birmingham Collection, England
Stephen Wildman 1995 Art Services International pp. 233-234, ill. p. 235
 
Re-framing the Pre-Raphaelites
Colin Trodd 1996 Scolar Press, Aldershot pp. 61-80
 
The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites
Elizabeth Prettejohn 2000 Tate Publishing, London pp. 233 ff.; repr. Fig. 184, details 232, Fig. 199
 
Work: Ford Madox Brown's Painting and Victorian Life
John Walker 2006 Francis Boutle Publishers, London pp.34 ff.; repr. p. 43
 
Work, Rest and Play
2007 National Gallery Company, London p. 10; repr. p. 10
 
Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite
Laura MacCulloch, Tessa Sidey 2008 D. Giles Limited pp. 29-30, 58; repr. p. 17
 
Ford Madox Brown: The Unofficial Pre-Raphaelite
Tim Barringer 2008 D. Giles Limited pp. 29-30
 
The Pre-Raphaelites
2009 Nationalmuseum, Stockholm Cat.57, p.179; fig.40

Provenance

Commissioned from the artist by James Leathart in November 1859; Harry Quilter; his sale Christie's 7 April 1906 (22); bought by Whitworth Wallis for J. R. Holliday.

Associated people

Name Type
Arthur Gabriel Madox Brown Depicted
Mrs James Leathart Depicted
Mr Thomas Carlyle Depicted
Robert Braithwaite Martineau Depicted
Reverend F.D. Maurice Depicted

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