The Artist's Wife Emma on her Wedding Day

FORD MADOX BROWN (1821-1893) Biography
PRE-RAPHAELITE (founded 1848) Biography

The Artist's Wife Emma on her Wedding Day (England, 1853)

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Coloured chalks on blue paper


38.10cm high
31.80cm wide
(15.00 inches high)
(12.52 inches wide)
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The Artist's Family, by descent

Exhibition History

Peter Nahum, A Celebration of British and European painting of the 19th and 20th centuries, Catalogue page 20, illustrated page 21

Description / Expertise

On 10th February 1849, Brown wrote in his diary that he had begun to paint Cordelia's veil in `King Lear' but he had only laid in a part of it when a girl as loves me came and disturbed me.(1) This was Emma Matilda Hill, the subject of this drawing, then still a teenager. She probably began to model for Brown in 1848, and a portrait drawing dated Christmas 1848 (Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery) may mark the beginning of their closer relationship.

Victorian propriety falsified their story. Hueffer's biography of his grandfather Madox Brown states that they met in Stratford where Brown was researching his picture of Shakespeare, and that when Emma's mother opposed the marriage they eloped, spending their honeymoon in Margate in September 1849.(2) This was done to conceal the fact that Catherine, Emma's first child, was born in November 1850, three years before she actually married. In this period Emma's existence was concealed from all but Brown's closest friends, although he gave her nothing but support and affection. They finally married on 5th April 1853, with Tom Seddon and Dante Gabriel Rossetti for witnesses. This drawing commemorates the event.

The drawing is executed boldly in chalk, for Brown only used the tight Pre-Raphaelite drawing style for small studies for pictures. Even when his painting was at its most detailed and precise in the early 1850s, his chalk portraits are astonishingly free. This work may be compared with his drawing of Catherine, dated 14th July 1852 (Walker Art Gallery)(3) and the circumstances in which the present work was drawn would have encouraged Brown to work fast. Brown's later drawing of Emma (Walker Art Gallery)(4) for the lady of leisure in `Work' is a detailed drawing in pencil, but its primary function is as a preliminary study rather than a portrait. Emma had all the characteristics of an early Victorian beauty and the present drawing reveals Brown's appreciation of her looks. She had a regular oval face, wide set, heavy lidded eyes and a rosebud mouth. She modelled for many of Brown paintings in the 1850s including `Work' and the `Last of England'.

1. V. Surtees, editor, The Diary of Ford Madox Brown, (Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1981), page 58
2. F.M. Hueffer, Ford Madox Brown, (Longmans, London 1896), page 59. A modern account of Brown's relationship with Emma Hill is found in Jan Marsh, Pre-Raphaelite Sisterhood, (Quartette, London 1985), chapter 2
3. Mary Bennett, Artists of the Pre-Raphaelite Circle: the First Generation, Catalogue of Works on the Walker Art Gallery, Lady Lever Art Gallery and Sudley Art Gallery, (Lund Humphries, London 1988), page 31, reproduced
4. Ibid, page 33, reproduced