Paint Schoodic

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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

The Last of England, 1855, Ford Madox Brown

I pray that 2014 will be my year of long-sought escape from New York. (I’m not alone in this—New York barely holds its own in population, but the 52 counties outside the New York City area have been in a steady decline for decades. My home town of Buffalo is half the size it was the year I was born.)

Nothing could express my sentiments better than Ford Madox Brown’s iconic The Last of England, above. Brown was inspired by his close friend, the poet and sculptor Thomas Woolner, who was forced by financial difficulties to emigrate to Australia in July of 1852. This was the peak of emigration from England, with 350,000 people leaving each year. Brown was himself thinking of leaving for India with his young family. The painting seems to have been his way of working through the issue. It depicts Brown and his wife Emma, with their daughter, Catherine (the blonde child in the background) and their baby Oliver, visible only as a tiny hand emerging from the bundle in his mother’s arms.

Work, 1852-63, Ford Madox Brown
Leaving a place you love for a better opportunity is never a simple process. It combines loss and gain, fear and hope. Every potential √©migr√©’s emotional conflicts are written on the faces in Brown’s painting, which is what makes it such an amazing and beloved work.

Brown never managed to emigrate, and although he is remembered as a great painter, he spent his life in a state of perpetual anxiety and financial insecurity. His anxiety only fed his financial problems, since it took him forever to finish anything.

Woolner only stayed in Australia for a short while, but while there he embarked on a lucrative career sculpting British imperial heroes. He was able to transplant that career back to his native England and was not only a successful sculptor and poet but an art dealer as well.

The Hayfield, 1855-56, Ford Madox Brown
Was Woolner’s audacity the result of his move, or the move the child of his audacity? We’ll never know until we try. I wish you all a very happy, audacious and fulfilling 2014.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!

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