Millie Smith

Ford Madox Brown, 1846

WAG 7804

About this object

In the summer of 1846, Ford Madox Brown stayed in modest lodgings at Southend-on-Sea, accompanied by his three-year-old daughter Lucy. He had returned from a stay in Rome. His wife had died on the journey home. Millie Smith, the subject of this painting, was his landlady’s daughter aged about five, and was a playmate for Lucy.

While Brown had been in Rome he had studied the work of The Nazarenes, German artists who were enthusiastic about early Italian and German ‘primitive’ painting of the 14th and 15th centuries. They painted in a bright and precise manner which heralded subsequent Pre-Raphaelite concerns. Impressed by their work and by the early Italian paintings and portraits by Holbein that he saw in Basle, Brown determined to abandon his ‘sombre Rembrandtesque style’ and paint brighter pictures.

At first glance this picture invites comparison with the early Victorian primitive portraits that might be more associated with a country painter. The disparities of scale between the table leg, chair back and over-large child’s head could suggest a lack of skill or inexperience. There is, however, an accomplished rendering of the flower vase, tablecloth, flesh-painting and the startlingly strong directness of the sitter’s pose. Victorian child portraiture tended to be sweet and sentimental, but Brown painted Millie with remarkable naturalness and directness. It is a painting of a very small child seen at her own eye level.

Although Brown has here abandoned extensive shadows and depth, the picture remains tonally rather dark. He probably used brown underpainting rather than the white ground of his subsequent works.

Object specifics

  • Artist(s)
    Ford Madox Brown (British: English, born:1821-04-16, died:1893-10-05)
  • Date
  • Materials
    Oil paint; Paper on panel
  • Measurements
    support paper/panel: 22.8 cm x 17.5 cm
  • Physical description
    Frontal portrait of a little girl sitting at a small round table. She is wearing a white dress with a red flower. The table is half covered by a red cloth with a vase on the left and a flower on the right.
  • Related people
    H Bedwell (Previous owner) ; Ford Madox Brown (Artist/maker) ; Christie’s (Previous owner) ; Richard Green (Previous owner)
  • Other number(s)
    WAG Inventory Number: 7804
  • Credit line
    Purchased by the Walker Art Gallery in 1972
  • Location
    Walker Art Gallery, Room 06
  • Collection
    From the Walker Art Gallery collections


Previous owners

  • Richard Green

    Owned from: 1972-01-28
    How acquired: Purchased by Var Haeften, for Richard Green
    Owned until: 1972-05
    Disposal method: Sold to the Walker Art Gallery
  • Christie’s

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: 1972-01-28
    Disposal method: Sold to Var Haeften £480, on behalf of Richard Green
  • H Bedwell

    Owned from: Unknown or unrecorded
    How acquired: Unknown or unrecorded
    Owned until: Unknown or unrecorded
    Disposal method: Unknown or unrecorded


Item inscriptions

  • Inscription text: F. Madox Brown 1846
    Inscription method:
    Inscription note:
    Inscription location: Front; Lower left
Object view = Fine Art
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