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Pencil Drawing - Poets of the Nineteenth Century - The Prisoner of Chillon - Compositional Sketch / Profile of a man's left Eye and Nose

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Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

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Basic Information

Accession Number:1927P353
Collection:Fine Art Prints and Drawings
Date:1857 - 1857

Maker Information

Artist:Ford Madox Brown - View biography for Ford Madox Brown


In 1856, on Rossetti's recommendation, the wood engravers George and Edward Dalziel asked Brown to design an illustration to Byron's poem 'The Prisoner of Chillon', for an anthology edited by the Rev. R. A. Willmott, 'The Poets of the Nineteenth Century'. the stoical hero of the poem is imprisoned in a dungeon with his two brothers, each chained to a column, and is forced to watch both die. Brown was a lifelong admirer of Byron, and whilst living in Paris in 1843 Brown completed a painting of the same subject but using a very different composition. Both versions show an interest in the contrast of light and shade but the later drawing focuses on the dead body in the foreground and the grouping of figures in a narrow space.

This loose early compositional sketch depicts five figures in a dungeon. In the foreground two figures, later to become the jailors, one wearing a hat, lean over a figure lying on the floor but chained to the wall. A shaft of light falls from a window on the right. In the background there is a shadow where Brown later adds the sixth figure of the head jailor lurking in the doorway. Having made intial sketches, Brown produced detailed figure sketches before incorporating these into a final study very close to the engraved image (British Museum). In comparison to the compositional study at the British Museum the figure of the dead brother is in a slightly different pose and the lacks the detail which Brown included, in the later study, after he had seen a cadaver in University College Hospital. Looked at together the drawings for 'The Prisoner of Chillon' show Brown's working process; first making a compositional sketch, secondly making individual figure studies and then incorporating these into a more detailed compositional study. The Birmingham collection also holds a study of a corpse for the dead brother (1927P352) and a copy of the final printed illustration (1912P50).

Bequeathed by James Richardson Holliday, 1927.

Further Information

Production Period:19th century
Medium:Pencil on paper.

Associated People


Height:146 mm
Width:112 mm