Emily Brontë was extraordinarily shy and only a handful of portraits of her exist, but an oil painting of a young woman handed over to a Northamptonshire auctioneer by a retired headmaster bears all the hallmarks of the famous literary figure.
The picture, which shows a young lady wearing a straw bonnet held in place by a silk scarf, could be of any young woman from the early 19th century, but it is thought that there is enough evidence to suggest that it is Emily Brontë.
It is almost identical to a print of a portrait of Emily Brontë published in The Woman At Home (July 1894 issue) which itself was attributed to Charlotte Brontë.
As well as that, written on the back of the picture, are the words 'Emily Brontë - Sister of Charlotte B... Currer Bell', and on the backing paper 'Emily Brontë/Sister of Charlotte Brontë/Ellis Bell' - Currer and Ellis Bell were the pen names of Charlotte and Emily Brontë from the winter of 1845/6 when the sisters published their poems and adopted pen names.
It is thought that the artist responsible for the newly found picture may be John Hunter Thompson (1808-1890) of Bradford who was a professional portrait artist and friend of Branwell Bronte, Emily's brother.
The painting is set to go on sale at JP Humbert Auctioneers in Towcester on Thursday December 15 at a provisional estimate of £10,000-£15,000.
Jonathan Humbert, managing director, said the painting will generate international interest and added that he was struck by how rare it is to have a portrait of the shy author.
"This painting has all the hallmarks of being a discovery of utmost importance to 19th century English literature with a strong raft of supporting evidence. We are very excited about bringing this to market," he said.Dubbing Heathcliff