Cromwell on his Farm

LL 3641


The central figure in this painting is the Civil War leader, Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658). Brown offers a humorous view of Cromwell as a gentleman farmer on his farm in St Ives. From his great white horse he directs the farm labourers who prepare the land for cultivation. The future revolutionary leader, however, is deep in thought and completely unaware of all the activity going on around him. He does not even notice his wife and children waiting outside the family house. Is he meditating on what he has just read in his Bible (the lines from Psalm 89 appear on the frame), or perhaps contemplating the political future of England, a country on the brink of civil war? After his death Cromwell gained a reputation as a ruthless tyrant, and it was not until the publication of Thomas Carlyle’s 'The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell' in 1845 that this image of him began to change. Carlyle (1795 - 1881) focused on Cromwell’s positive achievements and portrayed him as a self-made man and reformer of passionate moral conviction. Cromwell became the hero of the reformers, liberals and new men of 19th-century England. Brown read 'The Letters and Speeches of Oliver Cromwell' in the early 1850s when he was suffering from severe melancholy. Inspired by Carlyle’s reassessment of Cromwell, Brown began composing this painting in 1853. He first made a small watercolour of the subject (now in Manchester Art Gallery), choosing to show Cromwell in 1630 before the first Civil War when he too was suffering from low spirits. However, it was not until 1873 that William Brockbank, a Mancunian Pre-Raphaelite patron, commissioned Brown to complete the picture.