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Watercolour - Elijah restoring the widow's son
  • Elijah restoring the widow's son
    Brown, Ford Madox, born 1821 - died 1893
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Elijah restoring the widow's son

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    England (made)

  • Date:

    1868 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Brown, Ford Madox, born 1821 - died 1893 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:


  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, room WS, case R, shelf 74, box L

Ford Maddox Brown turned several of the illustrations that had been commissioned in 1863 for the Dalziel brothers' Bible Gallery into full-scale paintings. This one tells a story from the first Book of Kings. Elijah had miraculously supplied food for a widow and her son, and is called later to her house, where her son is dying. The widow accuses him of punishing her for her sins. But after a long vigil with the boy, Elijah brings him - still in his funeral shroud - down from the bedroom alive and well. This is an excellent example of the degree of historical authenticity at which the Pre-Raphaelites aimed. The humble interior, the rather Egyptian-looking steps and shroud, and the chicken with her chick, for example, give some flavour of biblical times, if not an accurate reconstruction. Brown's Manchester patron, Frederick Craven, commissioned the painting. He collected only pictures in watercolour. Brown later painted a replica in oil.

Physical description

A bearded man dressed in red robes and a blue shawl carries a young figure down some steps at the foot of which a woman is kneeling with her hands held up as if praying. To the the viewers right in the foreground is a hen with a chick on her back. Glimpsed through a doorway to the left is a room wuth a string of onions hanging from the ceiling.

Place of Origin

England (made)


1868 (painted)


Brown, Ford Madox, born 1821 - died 1893 (artist)

Materials and Techniques


Marks and inscriptions

Signed and dated


Height: 116.3 cm framed, Width: 83.2 cm framed, Height: 94 cm, Width: 62.2 cm, Depth: 3.5 cm framed

Object history note

Note: Reproduced facing p.126 of H M Cundall's 1908 (in colour), in 'L'Art et les Artists', June 1913, p.117, and in the Windsor Magazine, September 1913, facing p.370. A replica in oil belonging to Mr Bibby was exhibited at the Grafton Gallery in 1897.

'Commissioned by Frederick Craven, Manchester, February 1868, £210, plus return of The Nosegay at £105 valuation; finished November 1868 and touched at January-March 1869; Craven sale Christie's, 18 May 1895 (44), bt. Agnew, £325.10s.od.,for the Victoria & Albert Museum (268-1895).'
Source: Bennett, Mary. Ford Madox Brown; A Catalogue Raisonne. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010, vol. 1, pp 212, cat no. A82.2.

Original drawing for illustration to ‘Dalziel’s Bible Gallery’, published 1881.
Dated [18]68.

Descriptive line

Watercolour of Elijah restoring the widow's son by Ford Madox Brown, 1868.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Fagence Cooper, Suzanne, Pre Raphaelite Art in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, V&A Publications, 2003. 176p., ill. ISBN I 85177 393 2
Evans, Mark et al. Vikutoria & Arubāto Bijutsukan-zō : eikoku romanshugi kaigaten = The Romantic tradition in British painting, 1800-1950 : masterpieces from the Victoria and Albert Museum. Japan : Brain Trust, 2002
Julian Treuherz, Ford Madox Brown. Pre-Raphaelite Pioneer Manchester: Manchester Art Gallery, 2011. ISBN: 9780901673800.

The following is the full text of the catalogue entry, p.214:

'The prophet Eiijah restored to life the widow's son, who had fallen ill and was thought to be dead. Brown showed the prophet carrying the boy down from the upper chamber to his thankful mother, illustrating the passage "And Elijah said, See thy son liveth. And the woman said to Elijah, Now by this I know that thou art a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth" (I Kings 17: 23-24). As if speaking these words, the widow kneels at the foot of the staircase "in an ecstasy of passionate thankfulness."

As in the case of The Coat of Many Colours (cat.76), many of the details were researched from ancient sources so as to represent the Biblical period accurately, but Brown also chose details for their symbolic meaning. At the top of the painting is a bottle, set into the wall to attract nesting swallows: the shadow of the returning bird signifies the return of the soul to the body. To show that the boy had only just come to life, Brown depicted him still bound up in his grave-clothes, studied from ancient Egyptian sources. The Hebrew writing around the doorway is from the Shemah, the prayer which the Jews were commanded to write on their doorposts (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9). Through the doorway is a glimpse of a kitched with a barrel and other vessels; this refers to the preceding passage in Kings, in which the widow's handful of meal in a barrel provided meals for herself and the prophet. Similarly, the oil lamp in the upper room represents the cruse of oil that did not fail. Brown included other homely details such as the string of garlic and the hen with its chick riding curiously on its back, a detail taken from the Luttrell psalter. The identity of the model for the widow is not recorded, but she may have been Fanny Eaton, a mixed-race model used by several artists of the Pre-Raphaelite circle for Eastern characters.

Like The Coat of Many Colours, this painting is based on one of the illustrations made by Brown for Dalziel's Bible, commissioned in 1863 although not published until 1881. Brown made several versions in oil and watercolour. This one is the most impressive, a tour de force of watercolour technique, in which Brown skilfully depicted the patterns and textures of the Middle Eastern textiles and the brilliant colours in the hot sunshine, which he described as an effect of "vertical sunlight". It was painted between September and November 1868 for Frederick Craven, and retouched the following year at Craven's request.

Craven lent it to the autumn exhibition of the Royal Manchester Institution in 1869. When the annual Heywood prize for the best picture was awarded to a view of the Piazza Navona at Rome by the genre and landscape painter Keeley Hallswelle, a furious controversy arose in the local press. Shields and others including Sidney Colvin complained that Brown's painting, "the finest picture in the exhibition" should have won the prize, arguing that the prizewinning painter's aim was "a low one whereas Madox Brown's is of the highest."'

Subjects depicted



Paintings; Religion


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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