Friday 19 February 2016

22 February - 14 August 2016, National Portrait Gallery, London, Free Admission

In partnership with the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth to mark the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontës birth

A major display of personal items, original manuscripts and works of art to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre, opens at the National Portrait Gallery today, Monday 22February.

Celebrating Charlotte Brontë 1816-1855, (22 February - 14 August 2016) explores the author’s life, creative development and professional success. It includes portraits from the Gallery’s Collection and 26 items from the Brontë Parsonage Museum, birthplace and home of Charlotte and her family. It is also one of the museum’s largest ever loans, some of which have never previously been seen.

Among the treasures are paintings and drawings by Charlotte, letters and journals, the famous ‘little books’ created by the Brontë sisters as children including the first book Charlotte ever made and a pair of cloth ankle boots worn by Charlotte. Other items include first editions of Jane Eyre, her first published novel, which enjoyed immediate and enduring popularity as well as Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography, The Life of Charlotte Brontë.

Central to the display is the presentation of new research into the only surviving painted portraits of Charlotte with her two sisters, Emily and Anne, by their brother Branwell, in the Gallery’s Collection. This explores the intriguing story of its discovery folded on top of a wardrobe, subsequent acquisition by the Gallery and its restoration.

The display also includes works from the Gallery’s Collection including the chalk drawings of Charlotte and her friend and first biographer Elizabeth Gaskell by George Richmond, alongside portraits of Charlotte Brontë’s heroes and associates such as the Duke of Wellington, poet Lord Byron and novelist William Thackeray.

Celebrating Charlotte Brontë 1816-1855 is curated by the National Portrait Gallery’s Associate Curator Rosie Broadley, assisted by Lucy Wood, Assistant Curator.

Lucy Wood, Assistant Curator, says: ‘This is a rare opportunity to view one of our most iconic portraits, which is on permanent display in our 19th Century galleries, alongside exquisite personal treasures from the Brontë Parsonage Museum. The display illuminates Charlotte Brontë’s life and literary career and celebrates her remarkable contribution to British literature. Anybody interested in the Brontës will find this an unmissable experience’

Many of the loans from the Parsonage Museum as well as works from the National Portrait Gallery Collection will be exhibited in the United States for the first time at the Morgan Library in New York in autumn 2016.


Celebrating Charlotte Brontë 1816-1855 (22 February - 14 August 2016) Floor 1, Room 24, Admission free


Thursday 21 April, 19.00

Celebrating Charlotte Brontë £7/£5

On the bicentenary of Charlotte’s birth, Claire Harman, author of Charlotte Brontë: A Life, playwright Moira Buffini and novelist Rachel Joyce ask who was the real Charlotte Brontë?  In partnership with the Royal Society of Literature.

Saturday 14 – Sunday 15 May, 11.00 – 17.00

Weekend Workshop: Notes on Charlotte £150/£125

This two day craft workshop led by artist Grace Adam gives you the opportunity to respond to the themes and characters in Charlotte Brontë’s novels. Using portraits, family letters and objects from Haworth on display, produce artists’ books based on your own areas of interest. Techniques employed will include lino cutting, block printing, collage, drawing and photography. Suitable for all abilities.

For further press information and image requests please contact: Ailsa Mellor, Press Manager, National Portrait Gallery, London Tel: 020 7321 6620 (not for publication) Email: [email protected]   Press images:

National Portrait Gallery, St Martin’s Place WC2H 0HE, opening hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am – 6pm (Gallery closure commences at 5.50pm) Late Opening: Thursday, Friday: 10am – 9pm  (Gallery closure commences at 8.50pm) Nearest Underground: Leicester Square/Charing Cross General information: 0207 306 0055 Recorded information: 020 7312 2463  Website/Tickets:


Charlotte Brontë was the daughter of an Anglican clergyman and her books, Jane Eyre (1847), Villette (1853), Shirley (1849) and The Professor (1857), extended the emotional range of English fiction. Acutely shy in person, Brontë fearlessly questioned social conventions in her novels, drawing on her experience as a teacher and governess.

In 1824 she spent eight months at the Clergy Daughters' School, Cowan Bridge (the model for the Lowood Institution in Jane Eyre), then two years as a pupil (1831-32), and three years as a teacher (1835-38) at Roe Head School, Dewsbury, where she made her lifelong friends Ellen Nussey and Mary Taylor.

Mr. Brontë had intended his daughters become governesses, and Charlotte held two situations, first, with the Sidgwick family of Stonegappe, Lothersdale, for three months in 1839, and second with the White family of Upperwood House, Rawdon, for six months of 1841. She hated the work, and suggested to Emily and Anne that the three of them open their own school in Haworth. Aunt Branwell offered financial backing, which paid for them to study for two years (1842-3) at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, so Charlotte could improve her French. The sisters never managed to find pupils for their school and the enterprise never materialised.

It was at the Pensionnat Heger, though, that Charlotte fell hopelessly in love with her teacher Constantin Heger. Happily married, Heger did not reciprocate Charlotte’s affections, and she ended up back at home in Haworth, heartbroken.

Her dearest ambition was to be a writer. From a very young age she and her brother Branwell had collaborated in writing poetry and stories set in their imaginary world of Angria, and they were prolific, Charlotte claiming later that she had written more before the age of 13 than afterwards. In 1846 Charlotte persuaded her sisters to publish Poems by Currer Ellis and Acton Bell (the sisters' androgynous pseudonyms). This was a commercial disaster, selling only two copies, but by the end of 1847 the first novels of all three sisters had been published, and Charlotte's Jane Eyre was an immediate success. Following the publication of Shirley in 1849, the public knew her identity, and Charlotte became a celebrity in literary circles, something which the publication of Villette (1853) only enhanced.

In December 1852 Charlotte received a proposal of marriage from her father's curate Arthur Bell Nicholls. Mr. Nicholls had been with Mr. Brontë for eight years, and the proposal came as a surprise to Charlotte and her father. Partly because he thought his daughter too frail to survive a pregnancy, Mr. Brontë objected, and Charlotte declined. Mr. Nicholls was not to be put off, however, and after assiduous courtship the couple were married on June 29, 1854. The marriage was happy but short. Charlotte Brontë died in the early stages of pregnancy on March 31, 1855.

Her novel The Professor was published posthumously.