Date 1881-06-01
Publication Art Journal
Topic Madox Brown's frescoes in Manchester
AP display
RA display
Subject art
Keywords frescos
  ↳ Manchester
  ↳ technique
Standards aesthetic success
  ↳ execution
  ↳ authenticity
Notes Letters, Reminiscences 1&2, civic art, national artists.

Annotation details

81 June Art Journal


Madox-Brown's frescoes in Manchester.


Rossetti, William M. "Mr. Madox-Brown's Frescoes in Manchester." Art Journal (June 1881): 185. Web. 21 Sept. 2011.


Rossetti introduces the topic by saying that such fresco work is rare in contemporary England. He introduces Madox-Brown and his work, then discusses the work as he does with gallery reviews, playing out for the reader the intent of the story told by the artwork, examining technique, effectiveness, achievement and sometimes, comparative merit.

Besides being the mentor whom Rossetti credits with starting his career as an art critic at The Critic in the 1850s (Reminiscences 1:41), Madox-Brown was Rossetti's father-in-law and one of his Cheyne Walk circle of associates. In fact, Rossetti relates that the fresco project and Madox-Brown's appointment as one of the two artists was largely attributable to the association of Shields and Dante Rossetti, which led to Shields collaborating on the project and championing Madox-Brown's inclusion in the project (Reminiscences 2:325).

Rossetti makes the point that the fresco project encompasses "genuine historical art-national, and more particularly local." Codell maintains that Madox-Brown's Manchester frescoes transcend mere decoration or illustration and actually, as Rossetti maintains, play a role in the inscription of Manchester's publically held historical narrative (Codell 324).

Such an endeavor associated with publically-funded local historical art" is as it should be" and shows "an amount of public spirit and of intelligence in Art matters." He reinforces his frequent call for support of national artists by relating the process of artist selection by the Manchester municipal committee: "After a great deal of debate, and uncertainty, in the course of which there was at one time considerable danger that the nationally humiliating expedient would be resorted to of handing over the task to a brace of Belgian artists of very ordinary qualifications, a highly approvable choice of two British painters was made."

Rossetti mentions in passing "Alderman Thomas" who "was more particularly zealous and judicious in this matter," which corresponds to the strife he described in a letter to Lucy Rossetti as Madox-Brown "jarring with the Manchester people" over the preliminary drawings for the scenes to be painted (Letters 554).

There is a noteworthy discussion of the technical elements of fresco creation that demonstrates Rossetti's knowledge of the medium. He writes of the problems presented by fresco painting, a topic he discussed in a letter to Lucy Rossetti that related Madox-Brown's frustration with the paint flaking off of the whitewash, then having to be repaired, a tedious, time-consuming and repetitive process that frustrated Madox-Brown (Letters fn 547).


critic, historian


frescos, Manchester Town Hall, commissioned work

Standards of Judgment:

aesthetic value and achievement, authenticity, poetic power


Alderman Thompson, Frederick James Shields



Writing technique/tone:

critical, expository, explanatory


"genuine historical art, "to show an amount of public spirit and intelligence in Art matters;" "a free-spirited pictorial naturalism," "a most conspicuous piece of lifelike historical invention and potent truth, reconciled with pictorial unity and harmony."

Works Cited

Codell, Julie F. "Ford Madox-Brown, Thomas Carlyle, Macaulay, Bakhtin: The Pratfalls and Penultimates of History." Art History 21.September (1998): 324-66. Print.

Rossetti, William Michael. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 1. New York: AMS, 1970. Print.

--. Some Reminiscences of William Michael Rossetti. Vol. 2. New York: Charles Scribner, 1906. Print.

--. Selected Letters of William Michael Rossetti. Ed. Roger Peattie. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1990. Print.