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A study of 'Oliver Madox Brown', 1855, Ford Madox Brown

Portrait in pencil of a sleepy baby

15.8cm x 14.2cm
Accession Number WAG10508

This is one of five studies drawn between 1847 and 1857 depicting Madox Brown|’s four children. They are part of a substantial group of drawings of his children made for personal record and also as studies for future paintings.

Madox Brown’s first son, Oliver, was born in 1855 and the drawing shows him aged three days old. The artist adopts a softer stippled modelling of the child’s face - a much tighter drawing than the earlier fluid pastel of Cathy. The inscription along the top edge and the contrasting uniform dark background gives a strength to the drawing that is more akin to a black and white print.

Brown wrote in his diary for 20 January 1855 ‘This morning at half past 12am Dearest Emma was delivered of a son, my first. He is very red, a large nose, eyes, and shape of face like a calmuck tartar.’ A few days later he wrote that he ‘drew at the boy without his cap and they said I had given him a cold. ‘

In accordance with Pre-Raphaelite| truth to nature, Brown recorded the baby’s appearance with loving exactitude, making no attempt to beautify him. Oliver developed into a talented artist and writer but died of blood poisoning at the age of twenty.