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Madox Brown Woodcuts
( Originally Published 1913 )
If you should find on a bookstall the numbers or a bound volume of Dark Blue, a shilling monthly which began in March 1871, and came to an end in March 1873, look into it, and if you find a woodcut illustrating Rossetti's poem of " Down Stream," buy the number or the volume, as the case may be. For the design of the rower embracing the girl was drawn by Ford Madox Brown, and Rossetti praised it: its particular title is " Last Year's First of June."Ford Madox Brown was intensely dramatic as a painter, and he inspired the whole Pre-Raphaelite movement. His great picture of " Work " drew greater crowds than any other at the Franco-British Exhibition, though the Gainsboroughs and Romneys of that remarkable Exhibition hung in the same room.I fear it is useless to counsel you to look out for Madox Brown paintings, Madox Brown water-colours, or Madox Brown drawings, but it is still open to the man of modest purse to acquire Madox Brown woodcuts. There was a second such woodcut published in Dark Blue, also to illustrate " Down Stream."
"The Traveller."-On page 144 of the volume of Once a Week for 1869, volume III, new series. there is a woodcut called "The Traveller." This was almost the last flash of great art in that wonderful repository of great woodcut art known as Once a Week. The design illustrated a poem by Victor Hugo, which Madox Brown translated as well as illustrated. Followed by a dog, the traveller is riding past an inn ; the inn is brightly lit, and the innfolk would welcome the traveller for the night, but he claps his hand to his hat to keep it on and strengthen his resolution, and grimly rides past into the darkness.The Prisoner of Chillon.-From the shelf where I rank my precious woodcut books I take a perfect copy of Wilmott's " The Poets of the Nineteenth Century," which I was once so fortunate as to buy for half a crown. On page iii appears what is perhaps the most wonderful piece of design and woodcutting in the volume in which Madox Brown illustrates the lines:" He died-and they unlocked his chain,
And scooped for him a shallow grave
Even from the cold earth of our cave."
The better to draw this picture, Madox Brown spent three days in a dissecting-room (or a mortuary, it is not certain which), watching the gradual changes caused by mortality, and making the most careful studies, in colour as well as in bistre, all to enable him to draw correctly a foreshortened figure on a woodblock, five inches by three and three-quarters. This thoroughness, this attention to minutiae, this conscientious, careful use of his powers, great as they were and enabling him to have done rapid and impressionist work as well as anybody had he chosen, were characteristic of Madox Brown, and characteristic also of the Pre-Raphaelite School which he had influenced. I was privileged to enter Holman Hunt's studio the year before he died, and there I saw his large, elaborate, and beautiful working drawing for the lantern carried in Christ's hand in " The Light of the World." This drawing was made for the use of the metal-worker; not until the lantern itself in very metal was before him would the artist paint its representation into his picture. There is genius in the taking of pains."Lyra Germanica" Illustrations.-" Lyra Germanica " (a fine anthology of hymns translated from the German, and published in 1868 by Longmans) con tains three Madox Brown woodcuts. One is " At the Sepulchre," another is " The Sower," and the third is " Abraham," drawn in pen and ink from a cartoon of the same subject which had been executed for stained glass. Abraham has a nimbus, so has the boyish Isaac at his side ; and these particular drawings are in style almost Dureresque.The Bible Gallery Drawings.-In " Dalziel's Bible Gallery," published about 1881, appear three woodcuts after Madox Brown. The subjects are " Ehud and Eglon," " The Coat of Many Colours," and " Elijah and the Widow's Son."
" The Coat of Many Colours " is a wonderful piece of work as a design, though it was not well cut by the craftsmen Messrs. Dalziel employed for the purpose. But everything in connection with the " Elijah and the Widow's Son " picture is superb-the design, the drawing, and the woodcutting are all excellent. The prophet is descending the outside stairs from the upper chamber, with the revived lad, still swathed in cerements, carried under his right arm; the widow kneels and rejoices below.