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An image of Chaucer at the court of Edward III by Ford Madox Brown

Ford Madox Brown

(England 16 Apr 1821 – 06 Oct 1893)

Chaucer at the court of Edward III
Other titles:
Geoffrey Chaucer reading the "Legend of Custance" to Edward III and his court, at the palace of Sheen, on the anniversary of the Black Prince's forty-fifth birthday
Media category
Materials used
oil on canvas

372.0 x 296.0 cm stretcher; 391.0 x 315.0 x 8.0 cm frame

Signature & date
Signed l.r., brown oil "F. MADOX BROWN". Not dated.
Purchased 1876
Accession number
19th c European art
Further information

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.

Provenance (3)

Robert Dickinson, 1850-1855, London/England, [dealer] Sold to Dickinson for 85% of any future sale. Dickinson paid £20 on account to Madox Brown.

D.T. White, 1855-Nov 1863, [dealer] Failed to sell at unspecified auction, thence sold to White for £50. Brown retreived the painting from White, November 1863, in exchange for six paintings.

Ford Madox Brown, Nov 1863-Jun 1876, England, Purchased by the AGNSW from the artist 1876

Bibliography (54)

Keith Andrews, The Nazarenes: a brotherhood of German painters in Rome, Oxford, 1964, pp 81, 130.. Pl 72b for pencil study.

Anon, Daily News, ‘Fine arts – exhibition of the Royal Academy (first notice)’, 03 May 1851, p 6.

Anon., The Adelaide Festival of Arts 1962: Special exhibitions at the National Gallery of South Australia, 'The Pre-Raphaelites and their circle', Adelaide, 1962, not paginated, no 3.. not paginated, no. 3

Anon., Pre-Raphaelite diaries and letters, 'Madox Brown's diary etc 1844-56', London, 1900, pp 61-76, 81, 93, 94, 95, 97, 103-05, 107-09, 112, 115-17, 152, 162-69, 185, 199..

Anon., Look, 'Chaucer gets a facelift', Heidelberg, Feb 1993, p 9, col illus p 9..

Anon, Art Journal, ‘Exhibition of sketches and drawings’, London, 1851, pp 259-60: p 260.

Anon, Art Journal, ‘The Royal Academy: the eighty-third exhibition, 1851’, London, 1851, pp 153-162: p 157.

Anon, Aberdeen Journal, ‘Notes on notable things, no II – the Royal Academy of Arts’, Aberdeen, 04 Jun 1851, p 5.

Anon, Athenaeum, 'Royal Academy', London, 24 May 1851, pp 559-60: p 560.

Anon, Literary Gazette, 'The Royal Academy', London, 24 May 1851, p 365.

Anon, Illustrated London News, ‘Royal Academy exhibition (second notice)’, London, 17 May 1851, pp 415-16.

Anon, Observer, ‘Royal Academy of Arts.– second notice’, 11 May 1851, suppl p 2.

Anon, Builder, 'The Royal Academy', 10 May 1851, pp 292-93: p292.

Anon, Times, ‘Exhibition of the Royal Academy (private view): first notice’, 03 May 1851, p 8.

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Art Gallery of New South Wales (Editor), Pre-Raphaelite art: paintings, drawings, engravings, sculpture, tapestries, chintzes, wallpapers, Sydney, 1962, pp 5, 7, 9-10, no 3, illus pl 2 and col illus cover..

Art Gallery of New South Wales, Acquisitions 1975, Sydney, 1975.

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Tim Barringer, Men at work: art and labour in mid-Victorian Britain, New Haven, 2005, pp 42-44, illus p 43..

Timothy Barringer, Love and death: art in the age of Queen Victoria, 'Historical & Modern? Ford Madox Brown's Chaucer', pg.63-69, Adelaide, 2001-2002, pp 63-69, 86-87, 194, 207, col illus pp 62, 67 (details), 195..

Percy Bate, The English Pre-Raphaelite painters, London, 1901, p 19.. The illustration after p 20 is from the Tate replica.

Mary Bennett, Ford Madox Brown: a catalogue raisonné, New Haven, 2010, vol 1, pp 5, 6, 7, 18, 22, 35, 37, 38, 47, 48, 53-80, nos A40.1-53, 81, 82, 84, 92, 96, 114, 117, 118, 119, 120, 122, 125, 132, 133, 134, 182, 216, 236, 250, 262, 266, 275, vol 2, pp 371, 381, 384, 389, 390, 394, 395, 416, 420, 436, 440, 443, 523, 535, 558, 560, 567, 576, 580, 593..

Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Catalogue of the permanent collection of drawings in pen, pencil, charcoal and chalk, etc., including cartoons for stained glass, Birmingham, 1939, p 30-37..

and bye, Bell's Weekly Messenger, ‘The artist may do something, London, 31 May 1851, p 2.

Edmund Capon and Jan Meek (Editors), Portrait of a gallery, 'European art in the old courts', pg. 14-23, Sydney, 1984, p 14, col illus p 15.. See fig 66 for manuscript illumination of the same subject.

Patricia Crawford, History and legend in some selected paintings at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 1980, p 15..

Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'European', Sydney, 1988, p 44, illus p 45..

Renée Free, The Art Gallery of New South Wales Collections, 'The Western Heritage, Renaissance to Twentieth Century', pg. 108-172, Sydney, 1994, 108, 132 (colour illus.), 133.

Renée Free, Art Gallery of New South Wales catalogue of British paintings, Sydney, 1987, p 21, illus p 20..

Doug Hall, Brought to light - Australian Art 1850-1965, 'Learning from the first lesson: George Folingsby and genre painting. G.F. Folingsby The first lesson', Brisbane, 1998, pp 22-25, p 22..

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Western Collection: Paintings and Sculpture', pg. 17-77, Sydney, 1999, p 35, col illus p35..

Anne Kirker and Peter Tomory, British painting 1800-1990 in Australian and New Zealand public collections, Sydney, 1997, p 58, no 271, col illus p 10..

Manchester City Art Gallery, Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893, Liverpool, 1964, pp 3, 4, 5, 8, 13 no 11, 14, illus pl 2.. For oil sketches and drawings see nos 12-14, 50-58.

John McDonald, Art of Australia. Vol. 1: Exploration to Federation, ‘Shelter of freedom and boast of the world’, pg. 225-270, Sydney, 2008, 250, 251 (colour illus.).

Hal Missingham (Editor), Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, Sydney, Oct 1962, pp 119-25, pp 119-21, illus p 120 and p 122 (details)..

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, New South Wales Art Gallery pictures, Sydney, 1931, col illus pl 11..

John Nicholl, The Pre-Raphaelites, London, 1970, p 12.. See p 13 fig 8 for illustration of preparatory drawing.

Lucy Feiden Rabin, Ford Madox Brown and the Pre-Raphaelite history picture, New York, 1978, pp 87, 96-171, 177-78, 188-195, 203-05, 231-33, illus p 49.. PhD Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania, 1973. See also figs 44, 45, 61 for sketches and drawing.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Spectator, ‘Fine arts: the Royal Academy exhibition’, 10 May 1851, pp 451-52: p 452.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Spectator, ‘Fine arts – exhibition of sketches and drawings in Pall Mall East’, 06 Sep 1851, pp 859-60. Critical of the Chaucer, the pictorial effect of which would have been improved if exhibited with the wings, as here demonstrated in the [Ashmolean] oil sketch.

Royal Academy of Arts, The exhibition of the Royal Academy of arts... the eighty third, London, 1851, pp 20-21, no 380.

Sam Smiles, Visions of antiquity: the Society of Antiquaries of London 1707-2007, 'Art and antiquity in the long nineteenth century', London, 2007, p 136, illus p 137..

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Allen Staley, The Pre-Raphaelite landscape, Oxford, 1973, pp 4-6, 14, 31, 34, 36, 38, 44, 97, illus pl 6..

Allen Staley and Christopher Newall, Pre-Raphaelite vision: truth to nature, London, 2004-2005, p 66 under no 26, illus p 67, fig 16.. For Cardiff oil sketch see no 26.

F.G. Stephens., The Portfolio, 'Dante Gabriel Rossetti', London, May 1894, pp 5-94.. pp 24-25 Chaucer's head based on Rossetti's.

Sir Roy Colin Strong, And when did you last see your father, London, 1978, pp 44, 47, 58, 61, 72. See also p 59 for illustration of the Tate replica..

Tate Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelites, London, 1984, pp 15. 52-55, illus p 14.. Also reprinted with additions and corrections 1994. For oil sketches and replica see also nos 6, 7, 20.

Daniel Thomas, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'The Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 10-15, Sydney, Jan 1960, 13.

Julian Treuherz., Pre-Raphaelite Papers, 'The Pre-Raphaelites and medieval illuminated manuscripts', London, 1984, pp 153-169: pp 154-55..

Sydney Ure Smith (Editor), Adventures in Art: Australian National Art Gallery pictures, Sydney, circa 1945, p 4..

Christopher Wood, The Pre-Raphaelites, London, 1981, p 46, col illus p 47..

Editor Unknown (Editor), Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 1954.

Exhibition history (8)

Royal Academy of Arts, 1851, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1851–1851

Paris Exposition Universelle, 1855, Exhibition Venue Unknown, 15 May 1855–15 Nov 1855

Liverpool Academy, 1858, Liverpool Academy, 1858–1858

The exhibition of work and other paintings by Ford Madox Brown, Piccadilly Gallery, London, 1865–1865

The Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle: Adelaide Festival of Arts 1962, National Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, Mar 1962–Mar 1962

Pre-Raphaelite art: paintings, drawings, engravings, sculpture, tapestries, chintzes, wallpapers, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 03 Oct 1962–28 Oct 1962

Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893:

Love and death: art in the age of Queen Victoria, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 16 Mar 2002–12 May 2002