Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Emily Brontë (1818-1848), Novelist

Apart from the Richmond drawing of Charlotte (NPG 1452), the fragment of Emily (NPG 1724), the water-colour of Anne by Charlotte in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, Haworth (almost certainly rightly identified), reproduced W. Gerín, Anne Brontë (1959), frontispiece, the so-called 'Gun Group' (see entry for NPG 1724), and the group portrait in the NPG (1725), no other authentic portraits of the Brontë sisters are known. Several portraits have, at one time or another, been wrongly identified as the Brontës, usually on the basis of a supposed similarity with the authentic portraits. The most interesting of them is the water-colour in the NPG (1444), acquired as a portrait of Charlotte in 1906. It is signed and dated 'Paul Héger/1850'; shows the sitter reading a book inscribed 'Shirley/Brontë'; has other inscriptions identifying it on the back; and is said to have been bought originally in Brussels from the Héger family. Soon after its acquisition, a controversy broke out over its authenticity. Dr Paul Héger, the son of Charlotte's teacher, Constantin Héger, denied all know-edge of the water-colour; Charlotte never saw the Hégers again after her departure from Brussels in 1843. The discovery in 1913 of a faint pencil inscription on the back, 'Portrait of Miss Mary Vickers', further confirmed the portrait's dubious status. It seems to have been a genuine portrait of someone else, with false inscriptions added subsequently. The sitter is far too young to represent Charlotte in 1850, and looks quite unlike her.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Ormond, Early Victorian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1973, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.