BROWN, Ford Madox
(b. 1821, Calais, d. 1893, London)
The Last of England1852-55
Oil on panel, 83 x 75 cm
City Art Gallery, Birmingham
This famous image depicts two emigrants leaving England to start a new life abroad. The theme was inspired by the emigration of the sculptor Thomas Woolner, a fellow Pre-Raphaelite, who left for the goldfields of Australia in July 1852. In the same year, 369,000 emigrants left Britain to seek their fortune overseas.
Brown himself, hardly able to make a living from his art, was contemplating emigrating to India when he began work on The Last of England. As the main focus of the picture he chose a middle-class couple. Beneath her shawl the woman cradles a small baby, whose tiny hand (modelled on that of Brown's own child) is just visible, grasping its mother's hand. The models for the figures were the artist himself and his second wife, Emma.
The rather comical-looking cabbages arranged around the boat are intended to indicate a lengthy voyage. In the distance, the White Cliffs of Dover are just visible, while at the back of the boat a cabin boy is selecting vegetables for dinner from a small lifeboat, which bears the ironic name of the ship, Eldorado.
The circular format is reminiscent of a Renaissance tondo, but also serves to emphasise the couple's unity.