Pretty Baa-Lambs Ford Madox Brown Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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We are so used to seeing outdoor scenes of cosy family tableaux – these days usually snapped with the camera on a mobile phone – that it may come as something of a surprise to know that this image was something of an experiment by the painter, Ford Madox Brown, simply because paintings set outside were something of a rarity.

The image has a rather nursery-oriented title: The Pretty Baa Lambs, perhaps because the image itself is cocooned in the slow, soft world of a young child, literally still a babe in arms. Madox Ford used his wife and child as subjects, as well as the nursemaid who is on her hands and knees, pulling up some grass which the child – or her mistress – can tempt the sheep to come closer, bringing with them their precious and adorable lambs for the child to coo over. There is perhaps symbolism there: a contrast between the peaceable sheep, some of whom are resting on the ground while others stand, and the gently moving people, who likewise are divided into those on the ground and those still standing – with the mother sheep and her lamb an obvious comparison to the mother and child.

The painting is tranquil and inviting, depicting a warm and welcoming scene in which very few colours have been used: the blue of the sky, green of the grass and white of the sheep and of the women's and baby's clothing, with just spots of red here and there to enliven matters. It could, in fact, be exactly the sort of snapshot moment that we are accustomed to seeing and snapping every day without another thought – and Madox Brown felt somewhat the same about it! When asked about the symbolism of the painting, he brushed off the questioners with a brusque rebuttal, stating that it was merely 'a lady, a baby, two lambs, a servant maid and some grass'! The beauty of art, however, is that it can always be taken both at face value, for what it is, and can be scanned for deeper meaning, even meanings that the artist did not intend and would pooh-pooh if given the chance!

It is slightly misleading in that it was actually painted in a suburban garden: the borrowed lambs supplied daily by a local famer and the background common painted in after the main figures were well-established! The painting is a reasonable size, measuring some 60.9 by 76.2 centimetres, and is in oil on a wooden panel. It can be seen in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, in Birmingham, UK.

Pretty Baa-Lambs in Detail Ford Madox Brown