Ford Madox Brown

The Hayfield


In Tate Britain
Ford Madox Brown 1821–1893
Oil paint on mahogany
Support: 241 x 333 mm
frame: 410 x 498 x 50 mm
Purchased 1974


In keeping with the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic of 'truth to nature', much of this landscape was painted entirely on the spot. It offers a twilight view, looking east across rolling green fields on the Tenterden estate at Hendon in Middlesex. To the left of the picture, a farmer on horseback addresses the haymakers, who have almost completed the day's work. Another farm worker tends the horses, while a group of children await a lift home in the haycart. In the left foreground the artist himself rests against a small haystack, his equipment scattered about him. A full moon has just risen, and the setting sun strikes a distant house on its west side. Brown's aim in this picture was to achieve the effect of evening light, 'the wonderful effects…in the hayfields, the warmth of the uncut grass, the greeny greyness of the unmade hay in furrows or tufts' (Surtees, p.145). To this end, he began work at 5pm each evening, returning to the same spot about twice a week from the end of July until early September 1855. In October, after moving from Finchley to Kentish Town, he returned on several more occasions, and was sometimes forced to walk the fourteen miles there and back.

During the winter months Brown worked in the foreground details. He sketched a haycart at Cumberland market. He then painted in the artist and his props, working from a set in his conservatory, but he apparently used no models for the farmer, workmen and children. Many of these later features lack the freshness of the landscape setting.

The picture attracted criticism because of its unusual palette. In his 1865 catalogue Brown explained that 'the stacking of the second crop of hay had been much delayed by rain, which heightened the green of the remaining grass, together with the brown of the hay. The consequence was an effect of unusual beauty of colour, making the hay by contrast with the green grass, positively red or pink, under the glow of twilight' (quoted in Parris, p.134).

Brown's dealer, White, refused to buy the picture, claiming that the hay was too pink. Brown retouched the picture and later sold it to his friend and fellow artist, William Morris (1834-96), for 40 guineas.

Further reading:
Leslie Parris (ed), The Pre-Raphaelites, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1984, reprinted 1994, pp.133-4, reproduced p.133, in colour.
Elizabeth Prettejohn, The Art of the Pre-Raphaelites, London 2000, p.158, reproduced p.161, in colour.
Virginia Surtees, The Diary of Ford Madox Brown, New Haven and London, 1981, p.145.

Frances Fowle
December 2000

Display caption

Brown painted this landscape directly from nature. The setting is the Tenterden estate at Hendon, north London, looking east at twilight. He finished the final details in his studio, adding a self-portrait in the lower left corner. The effect he sought to capture was the way in which the brown hay was made to appear almost pink by contrast with the dense green grass. After it was finished his dealer rejected it on the grounds that he had never seen hay of this colour. Brown later retouched the painting before selling it to his friend and fellow artist William Morris.

Gallery label, November 2016

Catalogue entry

T01920 THE HAYFIELD 1855–56

Inscribed in red paint, b.r. ‘F. MADOX BROWN. HENDON 1855’
Oil on panel, 9 7/16×13 1/16 (24×33.2)
Purchased from a private collector (Grant-in-Aid) 1974
Coll: Bought from the artist by William Morris for £40, 23 August 1856; bought by Major Gillum for £63, 1864; thence by descent to the collector who sold it to the Tate Gallery
Exh: Art Treasures, Manchester 1857 (Modern Masters, 319); Liverpool Academy 1858 (295); Hogarth Club 1858; Royal Scottish Academy 1860 (798); 191 Piccadilly, 1865 (19); ‘The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’, City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham 1947 (5); The Pre-Raphaelites, Whitechapel Art Gallery 1948 (3); Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool 1964, City Art Gallery, Manchester 1964–5 and City Museum and Art Gallery, Birmingham 1965 (33); La peinture romantique anglaise et les préraphaelites, Petit Palais, Paris, 1972 (30, repr.); The Pre-Raphaelites, Whitechapel Art Gallery 1972 (2); Landscape in Britain c. 1750–1850, Tate Gallery 1973–4 (315, repr. in colour)
Lit: Ford M. Hueffer, Ford Madox Brown, 1896, pp.101–2, 114, 133, 439; ed. W. M. Rossetti, Praeraphaelite Diaries and Letters, 1900, pp.189, 193, 197–8, 200–1, T. Hilton The Pre-Raphaelites, 1970, p.150, fig.107; A. Staley, The Pre-Raphaelite Landscape, 1973, pp.38, 40–3, 94, repr. pl.15

This is one of several small landscapes painted by Brown in the 1850s during a period of great financial hardship. Looking for quick returns, he said he wanted ‘little subjects that will paint off at once’ (Rossetti, op. cit., p.188) but the time and care he actually devoted to them was out of all proportion to the prices they fetched-‘Carrying Corn’, for example, went to the dealer White for £12, and ‘The Brent at Hendon’ for £10. With ‘The Hayfield’ he did better, receiving £40 for it from William Morris.

The progress of the picture is recorded in Brown's diaries. On 27 August 1855 he ‘saw in twilight what appeared a very lovely bit of scenery, with the full moon behind it just risen; determined to paint it’ (Rossetti, op. cit., p.189). He returned to the spot, at Hendon, next day and began work. On the 30th he painted the sky but on 4 September had to scrape and repaint it because it ‘had cracked all over, through being painted on zinc white’ (ibid., p.193). On the 8th he ‘began work again at the Hendon Moon-piece, on Lord Tenterden's property ... The weather has been most trying: however, I have stuck at it, sometimes walking fourteen miles and only getting two hours’ work: in all, with to-day [he is writing on 22 October], nine days or thirty-six hours. In two more I think I shall finish what I can do to it there' (ibid., p.197). At the start of December he ‘began working up the foreground of my Hendon landscape. Yesterday I went to Cumberland Market, and sketched a hay-cart; afterwards put it in’ (ibid., p.198). The moon was added on 20 December but on 1 January 1856 Brown was ‘disgusted’ with the picture: ‘stuck it up against the wall, and worked at it from a distance. Painted out all the easel, box, etc., in front, that took me so much time to paint from nature. Made the whole right again’ (ibid., p.201). Further work was done in January and on the 21st White, the dealer, ‘called, but did not like [‘The Hayfield’]-said the hay was pink, and he had never seen such’ (Hueffer, op. cit., p.114). Finally on 23 August, ‘Rossetti brought his ardent admirer Morris, of Oxford, who bought my little Hayfield for 401.’ (ibid., p.133).

In the catalogue of his exhibition at 191 Piccadilly in 1865 Brown recalled that the picture ‘Was painted at Hendon late in the Summer of 1855. The stacking of the second crop of hay had been much delayed by rain, which heightened the green of the remaining grass, together with the brown of the hay. The consequence was an effect of unusual beauty of colour, making the hay by contrast with the green grass, positively red or pink, under the glow of twilight here represented’. Although the ‘very lovely bit of scenery’ with its ‘unusual beauty of colour’ was the inspiration of the piece, Brown's addition of the cart and workers and the figure of the painter turned it into something of a subject picture. The artist, resting at the end of his day's work in the fields (paint-box closed, camp-stool and umbrella put aside), gazes on the different sort of labour of the harvesters. The picture can, perhaps, be seen as a rural footnote to ‘Work’ (1852– 62), the large painting in which Brown surveyed urban labour in all its variety.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978


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