07/23/12 • 6 min
Though never officially a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this colleague of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris was, by inclination and practice, sympathetic to the realist ambitions of the movement. Born in Calais, Madox Brown studied in Belgium and was influenced by the German Nazarene painters in Rome before his first liaison with Pre-Raphaelitism. Working with pure colours and clear contours on a dazzling white ground, and carefully composing his subjects from well-lit life, Brown achieved a sense of pageantry in this tableau. Its lower portions are especially immediate, an extensive cleaning having revealed the glorious condition of the original paintwork. Though Brown began his original composition in Rome, the final canvas was begun in London in 1847, and completed in 1851. Rosetti modelled for Chaucer, while others of the Pre-Raphaelite circle appear as supernumeraries. It was Brown's desire in this, surely one of the greatest modern British paintings in Australia, to encapsulate an historical moment: the birth of the English language in the person of Chaucer. The Tate Gallery in London possesses a study for the work, exact in detail but much reduced in scale. AGNSW Handbook, 1999.
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