Stages of Cruelty

Ford Madox Brown, 1821 - 1893

Stages of Cruelty

Ford Madox Brown 1821 - 1893


An exterior scene with three figures and a dog. At the centre is a young woman dressed in a white jacket with lace collar and cuffs and a full length blue skirt. There is a posy of red flowers, possibly geraniums, tucked into the breast of her jacket and she holds some embroidery in her left hand. She sits on a wall by some steps that go up to the right. There is a lilac tree behind her. Her lover, a young man, looks over the wall and clutches her hand and arm. He looks imploringly at her but she ignores him and instead looks over at the young girl teasing her dog at the foot of the steps. The girl has a red dress and white bonnet and in one hand holds a stem of flowers with which she is about to hit the dog. The dog, a blood-hound, looks forlorn and has raised one of its paws. The different flowers depicted in the picture are symbolic. According to the Victorian language of flowers love-lies bleeding which the little girl holds meant ‘hopeless, not heartless’, purple lilac stood for ‘first emotions of love’ and convolvulus (seen on the stair rails) suggested ‘bonds’ or ‘extinguished hopes’. Geraniums had several meanings including ‘deceit’, ‘preference’ and ‘comforting’.

Display Label

Gallery text panel The Pre-Raphaelites in their Time Britain's first and best-known radical art movement emerged from within the Royal Academy in 1848. Its original members were rebellious art students who were disillusioned with contemporary practice. They looked back to Italian art before Raphael, seeing the pre-1500 period as one of great sincerity. They called themselves the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. In an age of rapid industrial and urban expansion, Pre-Raphaelite artists like Rossetti, Hunt and Millais, and pioneering design reformers such as William Morris, sought a return to pre-industrial values of art and design in truth to nature and materials, and good workmanship. In addition, the arts of the Middle Ages and Middle East were important sources of stylistic inspiration. The Bible, literature and contemporary life were preferred over subjects derived from classical mythology. The Brotherhood also rejected contrived studio lighting and took canvases outside to paint directly from nature. Although attempting to convey exactly what they saw, they created a heightened reality of dream-like intensity with minute details and bright, dazzling colours. Their art was a new kind of history painting for a new age.

Object Name

Stages of Cruelty

Creators Name

Ford Madox Brown

Date Created



unframed: 73.3cm x 59.9cm
framed: 89.7cm x 76.7cm

accession number


Place of creation





Oil paint


© Manchester Art Gallery

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