In his work Ford Madox Brown reveals his close association with the Pre-Raphaelite movement. In its honest simplicity the picture echoes the naturalism of seminal works of the 1850s such as Millais’s Christ in the House of his Parents or Rossetti’s Girlhood of Mary Virgin (both Tate). The composition of Brown’s The Supper at Emmaus was first conceived as a design for a stained glass window which he made in 1871 for the Church of Jesus at Troutbeck in Westmorland. This was part of a scheme of decoration undertaken by Morris & Co and in which Brown collaborated with Edward Burne-Jones; four of the nine cartoons were prepared with additional studies for the tracery. Ford Madox Brown was paid for Feed My Sheep and Supper at Emmaus in September 1870 and December 1871 respectively. The window itself was installed in 1873. The original cartoon for the stained glass window of The Supper at Emmaus was included in the exhibition ‘Pre-Raphaelitism’ at the Maas Gallery in London in 1970, no. 37. The project for the decoration of the Church of Jesus, Troutbeck, is discussed in detail in A. Charles Sewter, The Stained Glass of William Morris and his Circle, two volumes, New Haven, 1975, pp. 189-90.
The watercolour of The Supper at Emmaus was commissioned by Charles J. Pooley a cotton mill owner from Manchester. Not exhibited during the artist’s lifetime, it first appeared before the public in 1911 when it was included in the Loan Exhibition of Works by Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites at the Manchester City Art Gallery. The drawing was thoughtfully described in the catalogue in the following terms: ‘A sympathetic treatment of the subject. The disciples reveal their respective temperaments in the gestures that express their astonishment on recognising the master. Note the eastern landscape seen through the round windows. Here…Madox Brown is seen as a colourist.’ (p.18) Brown’s links with Manchester were further strengthened in 1878 when he received a commission to paint murals for Manchester Town Hall on the theme of the history of the city, a project which occupied the remaining years of his life.
The Supper at Emmaus was subsequently owned by the great collector of Victorian art William Hesketh Lever, Lord Leverhulme who was a consistent buyer of works by Ford Madox Brown. His first acquisition was the large painting of Cromwell on his Farm. It had been commissioned by William Brockbank of Manchester and was purchased from his family’s collection through the Fine Art Society on 16 October 1899. Three years later, Lever placed it on view at Hulme Hall, Port Sunlight and lent it to the great Loan Exhibition of works by Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelites in the autumn of 1911. The sale of George Rae’s collection in 1917 afforded the opportunity of purchasing the superb Pre-Raphaelite landscape of 1855, Windermere. The following year he bought the watercolour Nosegay at the Leicester Galleries. His last acquisition was that of Cordelia’s Portion, purchased though Gooden & Fox on 2 May 1924. All these paintings were subsequently given to the Lady Lever Art Gallery.
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