This pastel portrait shows Emma Madox Brown, the artist's second wife, resting after a serious illness in 1872. It had been a year of highs and lows which started badly with Dante Gabriel Rossetti's nervous breakdown. As his closest friend Brown took it upon himself to organise his care and, jointly with William Michael Rossetti, his finances. Following Rossetti's illness Brown himself suffered from two bouts of severe gout. However, the summer saw the celebration of Brown's second daughter Cathy's marriage to musicologist Franz Hueffer. It was after the excitement of the wedding that Emma succumbed to an infection which she fought for most of the autumn. Brown's portrait depicts Emma, looking pale, but with an abundance of luxurious red hair. She clutches a posy of pansies, which in the language of flowers signifies 'You occupy my thoughts' or victory, both appropriate sentiments after Emma's alarming malady.
Despite the personal nature of the portrait both Brown and his family saw it as a notable work. Hueffer lists it among 'Brown's more important works' and according to him Brown contributed it to a fund to aid the widow of a Manchester artist named Holding (Hueffer, 'Ford Madox Brown,' p. 275). This necessitated the making of a duplicate of the portrait in February 1873. As late as 1891 he used the composition as the basis for his title page illustration to Mathilde Blind's 'Dramas in Miniature.' Emma herself died in 1890 after another 'protracted and painful illness.'