Madox Brown, who grew up in France and Belgium before he came to England and won fame with paintings like 'The Last of England', was always an outsider, and the women he loved also burst out of stereotypes. His two wives, Elisabeth Bromley and Emma Hill, and his secret passions, the artist Marie Spartali and the author Mathilde Blind, were all remarkable personalities, from very different backgrounds.
Their striving for self-expression, in an age that sought to suppress them, tells us much more about women's journey towards modern roles. Their lives - full of passion, sexual longing, tragedy and determination - take us from the English countryside and the artist's studio to a Europe in turmoil and revolution. These are not silent muses hidden in the shadow of a 'Master'. They step out of the shadows and into the picture, speaking with voices we can hear and understand.
Angela Thirlwell read English at Oxford and lectured at Birkbeck College, University of London until 1999. Her books include the Folio Anthology of Autobiography (1994), The Pre-Raphaelites and their World (editor, 1995) and William and Lucy: The Other Rossettis (Yale, 2003).