Down the Telescope

Nicholas Penny

  • Modern Painters, Old Masters: The Art of Imitation from the Pre-Raphaelites to the First World War by Elizabeth Prettejohn
    Yale, 286 pp, £45.00, June 2017, ISBN 978 0 300 22275 3

Elizabeth Prettejohn’s book opens with a discussion of The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, made in 1852-55 and now in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The painting shows a couple leaving England for Australia on a crowded boat. It is insistent in its sharp focus, and brilliant, even strident, in its modern palette: the purple and green of cabbages hanging from the ship’s railing, the bright rose of a windswept silk bonnet ribbon cutting across the centre of the picture, and the mauve fingers of an otherwise concealed infant. The taut composition is compressed into an almost circular frame. The setting on a boat rocked by a rough sea provides one explanation for the absence of any reliable horizontal and for the choice of this inherently unstable format.

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