I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas: they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind.
Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

zondag 17 april 2011

What did the Bronte Sisters look like?

There are two official portraits of the Bronte Sisters.
Both painted by their brother Branwell Brontë (His own image in the picture has been painted out).

This is an actual photograph of 'The Gun-Group' portrait - an oil painting produced by Branwell around 1833/34. The photograph is now in extremely poor condition. The subjects are, from left to right: Anne, Charlotte, Branwell and Emily. Shortly after Patrick Brontë's death in 1861, Charlotte's husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls (pictured on right), took the painting back with him to his home town of Banaghar, in southern Ireland. He tore off the section showing Emily and destroyed the remainder believing the likenesses of the other three to be so poor. The original 'Emily' section is now on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Mary Taylor discribes Charlotte when she arrived at Roe Head:
I first saw her coming out of a coverd cast,in very old-fashioned clothes, looking very cold and miserable She looked a little, old woman.
Ellen Nussey: She never seemed to me the unattractivelittle person others designated her, but certainly she was at that tme anything but pretty, even her good points were lost. Her naturally beautiful hair of soft sily browb being then dry and frizzy-looking, screwed up in tight little curls. 
Ellen Nussey July 1833, her first stay at the Parsonage:  
Emily was the tallest person in the house, except her father. Her hair, which was naturally as beautiful as Charlotte's, was in the same unbecoming tight curl and frizz, and there was the same want of complexion. She had very beautiful eyes – kind, kindling, liquid eyes; but she did not often look at you; she was too reserved. Their colour might be said to be dark grey, at other times dark blue, they varied so. She talked very little. She and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.
Anne, dear gentle Anne, was quite different in appearance to the others. She was her Aunt’s favourite. Her hair was a very pretty light brown and in falling curls fell on her neck in graceful curls. She had lovely violet blue eyes, fine pencilled eye-brows, a clear, almost transparent complexion."
Juliet Barker: Anne's hair was actually darker then Ellen remebered: a little plait, cut off and cerefully preserved by Patrick on 22-05-1833 suggests that it had deepened to a rich brown with a hint of auburn, though it remained fairer than her sisters.
Victorian society was of no interest to Emily. Having taken a fancy to the romantic, gigot sleeves of the 1830s- she wore them long after they’d gone out of style. On the other hand, she had no use for false embellishment. While attending Madame Heger’s school in Brussels, she was teased by the fashionable girls for not wearing a corset. Fellow pupil, Laetitia Wheelwright, recollected that Emily always answered their jokes with, “I wish to be as God made me.”
 Charlotte Bronte made these portraits of Anne:

George Smith: Charlotte’s friend and publisher:
'I must confess that my first impression of Charlotte Brontë’s personal appearance was that it was interesting rather than attractive. She was very small, and had a quaint old-fashioned look. Her head seemed too large for her body. She had fine eyes, but her face was marred by the shape of the mouth and by the complexion. There was but little feminine charm about her; and of this fact she herself was uneasily and perpetually conscious. It may seem strange that the possession of genius did not lift her above the weakness of an excessive anxiety about her personal appearance. But I believe that she would have given all her genius and her fame to have been beautiful. Perhaps few women ever existed more anxious to be pretty than she, or more angrily conscious of the circumstance that she was not pretty.'
On the website of the National Portrait Gallery
I found these portraits: 
Charlotte Brontë (Mrs A.B. Nicholls)
by George Richmond
chalk, 1850
23 5/8 in. x 18 3/4 in. (600 mm x 476 mm)
Bequeathed by the sitter's husband, Rev A.B. Nicholls, 1906
George Richmond (1809-1896), Portrait painter and draughtsman; son of Thomas Richmond. Artist associated with 320 portraits, Sitter in 13 portraits.
Brontë's publisher, George Smith, commissioned this portrait of the novelist from Richmond as a gift for her father, who saw in it 'strong indications of the genius of the author'. Elizabeth Gaskell recalled seeing the portrait hung in the parlour of the Haworth parsonage, and a copy of it appeared in her biography.
Juliet Barker: Richmond captered the beauty of her large hazel eyes and played the size of her prominent nose and mouth.

It was during this visit in the summer of 1850 that the Smiths persuaded Charlotte Bronte to sit to George Richmond for a portrait, and she agreed, as the drawing was to be framed and presented to her father, and Ellen Nussey had also wished for a portrait of her friend. Richmond found Charlotte Bronte by no means a good subject; it is well known that he was keen about having a good picture as well as a faithful likeness. Richmond found Charlotte Bronte very depressed, and after she had given him two sittings he lost hope. It was her melancholy expression, as well as her irregular features that troubled him. On her third visit, the Duke of Wellington's servant was just leaving the studio as she entered, which caused Richmond to say in welcoming her, " If you had been here a quarter of an hour sooner, you would have seen the Duke of Wellington." Whereupon she broke out into eager talking about the Duke, and the artist caught the wistful expression given in her portrait.

When Richmond was getting on well with the drawing, Charlotte Bronte stood behind him, looking at it,  he heard a sob, and on turning round she said to him, " Excuse me it is so like my sister Emily."

When the drawing was finished, Mr. George Smith says in his paper, " In the Early Forties," " She burst into tears, and said it was so like her sister Anne, who had died the year before." The fact was, there was a family likeness between the three sisters, but Charlotte was not so good-looking as Emily and Anne. Mrs. Gaskell considered the drawing an excellent likeness, as did others who knew her in 1850.

Mr. Smith sent the drawing, and also a framed portrait of the Duke of Wellington as a present for Mr. Bronte, whom, as an Irishman, he greatly admired.

This portrait of Charlotte Bronte I never saw before.

Unknown woman, formerly known as Charlotte Brontë (Mrs A.B. Nicholls)
by Unknown artist
watercolour, 1850
urchased, 1906
for more information about this portrait read this

Thackeray’s daughter, the writer Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie recalled a visit to her father by Charlotte Brontë:
…two gentlemen come in, leading a tiny, delicate, serious, little lady, with fair straight hair, and steady eyes. She may be a little over thirty; she is dressed in a little barège dress with a pattern of faint green moss.  
Barège dress = (a lightweight fabric woven of silk or cotton and wool) 


A lot of discussion is going on about this portrait of Landseer. Read more on these weblogs:

Landseer could have travelled through the Brontes' home town of Haworth whilst visiting his friend John Nussey at Bolton Hall in Yorkshire. Nussey was the also brother of Charlotte Bronte's friend Ellen.
Funny information on these weblogs

Ruring a visit to London Charlotte visit the Royal Academie and is looking to a painting of Landseer. This is the only official occasion that the Bronte name is connected with Landseer.

I am going on in my search for more information about the Richmond and Landseer portraits and Charlotte's photo's.

A photograph believed
to be that of Charlotte Brontë
taken in the last year
 of her life in 1854.
Courtesy Brontë Parsonage Museum

Artist not known
Brontë Parsonage Museum
circa 1839

A head and shoulders portrait of Charlotte Brontë (1816-1855) showing her wearing a bonnet. It is possible that this is the portrait Charlotte writes about while on her second visit to Brussels in 1843. This would suggest the artist is Mary Dixon.

Medium: ink, crayon, chalk & wash
Dimensions: diameter: 15.5cm
Vendor: Sotheby's
Martha Brown (a servant in the Bronte household), 1855; William Law; Sotheby's, 2004.

Recently restored chalk drawing of Charlotte Bronte which was purchased at Sotherbys in 2004 and carefully restored to its former glory by experts.

When I see these portraits
I wonder
Why did Charlotte think she is ugly?

This is the latest discussed portrait
I have a problem with the hat of  ""Emily""
I think it is of a later period
But sure this portrait
 shows the kind of wild and imagenary beauty I imagine the sisters could have
More info on brontesisters

13 opmerkingen:

  1. I finally saw Jane Eyre yesterday! They did a nice job but it was much to short of a time to do the story proper justice. Still, beautiful to watch and what was there was well done. Masterpiece though is still my absolute favorite. I love how in that one the actress Ruth Wilson looked so much like Charlotte could have, it was uncanny really, you could almost envision her being Charlotte.
    I wonder about the second photograph of Charlotte, if it's real, it could be, such a mystery isn't it?! Every painting and image of her is different somehow. Let's hope for more undiscovered photo's being out there that will prove all!
    xo J~

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  2. I really wished to know what Charlotte looked like. There are so much different views. I agree, Ruth Williams is really how I imagion Charlotte looked. Not pretty at first side, but later when you are used to it, attractive.

    In Holland Jane Eyre will come in october.

    This blog is under construction. I am still working on it.
    I am searching for more information about the Richmond and Landseer portraits. And about the photo's of Charlotte.

  3. Did you all notice the descriptions of brown and black skinned persons in Jane Eyre? Villette is described as of 'brunette'complexion, on the first page. Her Juvenalia on Angria stars with the lament of an African Queen. According to her publisher Smith, her face was marred by the shape of her mouth and complexion. She is supposed to have had a large mouth. Ugly was used to describe subnasal prognatism, a classical African facial trait. So I presume Charlotte Brontë had brown skin, and generous Black lips. 'Ugly' could mean she looked African. Perhaps today we would not judge so harshly. The same story about missing portraits and unlikely portraits is also found in the stories about Jane Austen (1775-1817). My research is : 'The eloquence of her blood; Was Jane Austen Black?
    We are dealing with the fall out of the French Revolution and that of 1848, when black supremacy was overcome. The nobility was brown and black of complexion, and despotically oppressed their white serfs. After 1848 history was white washed.

  4. Hi Kluerrijk- There is confusion about Charlotte's appearance. Presently, the only dependable 'bench-mark' is Branwell's 'Pillar' portrait, and to qualified extent Richmond's drawing- compromised by Charlotte's 'discomfort' in his company (no Landseer he)and his sternly bi-tonal choice of media- this 'puritan' indulgance often interpreted as suggesting Charlotte had 'hazel' eyes. Mrs Gaskill's description is sometimes believed to suggest Charlotte had 'brown' eyes, but in fact confirms she had eyes 'the same colour' as Mrs Gaskill's- blue. All other contemporary descriptions corroborate blue/grey eyes. Charlotte's off-set 'crooked mouth' is unanimously recognised, cleverly avoided by Branwell who turned her 'off-set' aspect towards the viewer. In the 'fresh' group portrait Landseer achieved the same 'illusion' by tilting her head. Rotating her image upright reveals the famed 'crooked mouth'.
    Two of the bona fide 'Charlotte' images above are mis-catalogued. The photo, a robust, healthy woman of several years beyond Charlotte's 39, suggests she completely recovered from the gaunt, anorexic grief described by Richmond in 1850, yet within a few months this chubby 'old' lady married, got pregnant and died of malnutrition. Not chronologically plausable, besides, it's Ellen Nussey.
    The 'Bonnet' pastel can't be consolidated with any known image of Charlotte- it's Mrs Elizabeth Gaskill- a formulaic 'outdoor' sketch, possibly by a London street artist- this mis-attribution now admitted by the Bronte Museum, since the pastel has been withdrawn from display- and mention.
    The 'fresh' group portrait magically embodies all the distinctive individual features of the 3 subjects according to the most authentic descriptions, and subtly records the 'pretty, dove-coloured tint' of bare walls (q. Ellen Nussey), the extravagant beaded curves and 'whorled' carving of the surviving William 4th sofa, and exacting renditions of rare items and unique, hand-made accessories (eg; Anne's 'herringbone' plaited hair & amythist bracelet) which remain at the parsonage Museum.
    Another recovered Emily is going under the hammer next month at Humberts- unreserved. BM refute the lovely thing by suggesting 'no one would want to paint her' (although probably painted by family friend J H Thompson, Emily had lot's of fellow-artist friends) she is bone and breath the same girl Branwell painted (and the same hot-seated fidgit Landseer captured in 1838). I'm sure she will be recognised by the buyer.

  5. All other contemporary descriptions corroborate blue/grey eyes

    and yet in Branwell's 'Pillar' portrait, they are brown?

    Oh! I thought I was the only one who thought that supposed photo of Charlotte found with Ellen Nussey material, was actually Ellen Nussey.I believe the profile photo more likely to be CB

    I am planning a portait pair of Charlotte and Arthur Bell Nicholls and your excellent posts help a great deal. Only the Brontës could make the Romanovs step aside for a time lol

  6. To help one get a image of Charlotte in one's mind, I would suggest getting a print of the original Richmond portait (there are so many diffrent versions , but later ones would be of no help etc.) Also Branwell's pillar portait of CB, plus throw in the profile photo. They all contain similar features ( for one thing, the large bottom lip etc.) The image comes about from looking at one and then at another. One must never forget her tiny size either...imo that plays a role. The heart and mind blazed from that little form! She was something

    The 'Bonnet' pastel can't be consolidated with any known image of Charlotte- it's Mrs Elizabeth Gaskill

    good catch

  7. Thank you Beant. How such mistakes are made, esp funded with trusted charity and donation, is disheartening and disconcerting for lay fan and historian alike- yet the perpetrators' opinion on other people's supposed portraits of Brontes is still regarded as the 'last word' by innocent researchers, media and/or auctioneers. More frustrating and seemingly somehow corrupt, it appears anything they don't 'own' related to the Brontes is a fake or mistake.
    The recently proposed group photo:
    My heart sailed when I saw this treble triple image- an un-manipulated crisp photo. Sadly, a mystery has buried it in obscurity- there is no mention of it, or the occasion of it's making. This is a logical, intriguing question, yet BMP & B Soc suggest lack of reference proves it is not the sisters. (Similarly, the 'official' argument refuting the 1838 group portrait by Landseer is that no mention of the famous artist survives among Bronte artifacts -[almost true], and that no-one knew the sisters, or had reason to paint them before they became famous.
    Fortunately, and beyond doubt in my mind, the 3 young women in group photo and 3 girls in 1838 portrait (and 'bohemians' in missing 1836 pastel by same artist) are one (X3) and the same. It appears to be made after Brussels, perhaps intended for the first book. Emily and Charlotte are wearing heavy cloaks typical of Flemish or Germanic style, Anne's lighter fabric with cape may have been home made. So, if real, and possibly the only group photo ever made, why no mention, and why was it never published? The story of Imre Goth's Goering explains this mystery. Imre was commissioned by the Nazi to paint his 'off duty' portrait, but was infuriated when he saw that the artist had betrayed his addiction to morphine, and ordered the artist to re-work his eyes. Imre refused, Goering ordered his arrest, but he escaped to England- with the painting. What has this to do with the photo? When laudanum and opiate abuse was rife, everyone knew the signs. I imagine Charlotte did not expect such searching resolution from the new technology, and must have been near broken-hearted when she saw that the photo risked betraying her affair- and hypocrisy. That is why the photo was never used or mentioned. Enjoy it tho.

    Best wishes all, James GvG

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  11. Dear Stewart-

    Apologies not reponding your comment- I propose the photo was taken during Charlotte's return to Haworth for aunt 'Liz funeral- she and Em wear chenille WINTER cloaks- ('caterpillar' en Francais,)famously made in Brussels- Anne's is more homely cloth, perhaps made by Charlotte), their SUMMER hats are continental- 1840's. Should not speculate but photo could have been intended for book (Charltt planning to write since 1838) or a 'state of the art' gift (aunt's small inheritance coincides)for Mary and Martha Taylor in Brussels, my preferred destiny. Mary went NZ and Martha moved S.France where the photo was recovered. Never published or seen because the probing lens betrayed poor Chrltt's increasing, torturously hypocrytical dependency on laudanum. v.best, James

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The Parlour

The Parlour



Charlotte Bronte

Presently the door opened, and in came a superannuated mastiff, followed by an old gentleman very like Miss Bronte, who shook hands with us, and then went to call his daughter. A long interval, during which we coaxed the old dog, and looked at a picture of Miss Bronte, by Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looking strangely out of place on the bare walls, and at the books on the little shelves, most of them evidently the gift of the authors since Miss Bronte's celebrity. Presently she came in, and welcomed us very kindly, and took me upstairs to take off my bonnet, and herself brought me water and towels. The uncarpeted stone stairs and floors, the old drawers propped on wood, were all scrupulously clean and neat. When we went into the parlour again, we began talking very comfortably, when the door opened and Mr. Bronte looked in; seeing his daughter there, I suppose he thought it was all right, and he retreated to his study on the opposite side of the passage; presently emerging again to bring W---- a country newspaper. This was his last appearance till we went. Miss Bronte spoke with the greatest warmth of Miss Martineau, and of the good she had gained from her. Well! we talked about various things; the character of the people, - about her solitude, etc., till she left the room to help about dinner, I suppose, for she did not return for an age. The old dog had vanished; a fat curly-haired dog honoured us with his company for some time, but finally manifested a wish to get out, so we were left alone. At last she returned, followed by the maid and dinner, which made us all more comfortable; and we had some very pleasant conversation, in the midst of which time passed quicker than we supposed, for at last W---- found that it was half-past three, and we had fourteen or fifteen miles before us. So we hurried off, having obtained from her a promise to pay us a visit in the spring... ------------------- "She cannot see well, and does little beside knitting. The way she weakened her eyesight was this: When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals, ('stippling,' don't the artists call it?) every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. She wanted to learn to express her ideas by drawing. After she had tried to draw stories, and not succeeded, she took the better mode of writing; but in so small a hand, that it is almost impossible to decipher what she wrote at this time.

I asked her whether she had ever taken opium, as the description given of its effects in Villette was so exactly like what I had experienced, - vivid and exaggerated presence of objects, of which the outlines were indistinct, or lost in golden mist, etc. She replied, that she had never, to her knowledge, taken a grain of it in any shape, but that she had followed the process she always adopted when she had to describe anything which had not fallen within her own experience; she had thought intently on it for many and many a night before falling to sleep, - wondering what it was like, or how it would be, - till at length, sometimes after the progress of her story had been arrested at this one point for weeks, she wakened up in the morning with all clear before her, as if she had in reality gone through the experience, and then could describe it, word for word, as it had happened. I cannot account for this psychologically; I only am sure that it was so, because she said it. ----------------------She thought much of her duty, and had loftier and clearer notions of it than most people, and held fast to them with more success. It was done, it seems to me, with much more difficulty than people have of stronger nerves, and better fortunes. All her life was but labour and pain; and she never threw down the burden for the sake of present pleasure. I don't know what use you can make of all I have said. I have written it with the strong desire to obtain appreciation for her. Yet, what does it matter? She herself appealed to the world's judgement for her use of some of the faculties she had, - not the best, - but still the only ones she could turn to strangers' benefit. They heartily, greedily enjoyed the fruits of her labours, and then found out she was much to be blamed for possessing such faculties. Why ask for a judgement on her from such a world?" elizabeth gaskell/charlotte bronte

Poem: No coward soul is mine

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the worlds storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heavens glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

O God within my breast.
Almighty, ever-present Deity!
Life -- that in me has rest,
As I -- Undying Life -- have power in Thee!

Vain are the thousand creeds
That move mens hearts: unutterably vain;
Worthless as withered weeds,
Or idlest froth amid the boundless main,

To waken doubt in one
Holding so fast by Thine infinity;
So surely anchored on
The steadfast Rock of immortality.

With wide-embracing love
Thy Spirit animates eternal years,
Pervades and broods above,
Changes, sustains, dissolves, creates, and rears.

Though earth and man were gone,
And suns and universes ceased to be,
And Thou wert left alone,
Every existence would exist in Thee.

There is not room for Death,
Nor atom that his might could render void:
Thou -- Thou art Being and Breath,
And what Thou art may never be destroyed.

Emily Bronte

Family tree

The Bronte Family

Grandparents - paternal
Hugh Brunty was born 1755 and died circa 1808. He married Eleanor McClory, known as Alice in 1776.

Grandparents - maternal
Thomas Branwell (born 1746 died 5th April 1808) was married in 1768 to Anne Carne (baptised 27th April 1744 and died 19th December 1809).

Father was Patrick Bronte, the eldest of 10 children born to Hugh Brunty and Eleanor (Alice) McClory. He was born 17th March 1777 and died on 7th June 1861. Mother was Maria Branwell, who was born on 15th April 1783 and died on 15th September 1821.

Maria had a sister, Elizabeth who was known as Aunt Branwell. She was born in 1776 and died on 29th October 1842.

Patrick Bronte married Maria Branwell on 29th December 1812.

The Bronte Children
Patrick and Maria Bronte had six children.
The first child was Maria, who was born in 1814 and died on 6th June 1825.
The second daughter, Elizabeth was born on 8th February 1815 and died shortly after Maria on 15th June 1825. Charlotte was the third daughter, born on 21st April 1816.

Charlotte married Arthur Bell Nicholls (born 1818) on 29th June 1854. Charlotte died on 31st March 1855. Arthur lived until 2nd December 1906.

The first and only son born to Patrick and Maria was Patrick Branwell, who was born on 26th June 1817 and died on 24th September 1848.

Emily Jane, the fourth daughter was born on 30th July 1818 and died on 19th December 1848.

The sixth and last child was Anne, born on 17th January 1820 who died on 28th May 1849.

Top Withens in the snow.

Top Withens in the snow.



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