Unknown woman, formerly known as Charlotte Brontë

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Unknown woman, formerly known as Charlotte Brontë

by Unknown artist
watercolour, 1850
12 1/4 in. x 9 1/4 in. (311 mm x 235 mm)
Purchased, 1906
Primary Collection
NPG 1444

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  • Unknown artist, Artist. Artist or producer associated with 6580 portraits.

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Graham Watson

14 January 2019, 23:12

This portrait was disqualified as a likeness of Charlotte Brontë in 1914 after an examination of its materials and inscriptions.

Its reverse has three incriptions: a set of instructions to the framer (stating the portrait is on canvas on a wooden frame); the words 'The wearin' of the green, first since Emily's death'; a statement that it is a portrait of Charlotte Brontë 'by Paul Heger drawn from life in 1850'. It is also signed 'Paul Heger, 1850' at the foot of the frame.

Not only was Charlotte Brontë not in Brussels in 1850 to have been painted in person but Paul Heger was only 4 years old at the time. Furthermore, in an interview with Ellis Chadwick (Paul Heger lived until 1925), he denied this painting had ever been in his family's possession or that anyone in his family could have been responsible for creating it.

The inscriptions therefore could be established as bogus.

It was not lost on investigators that an image of Paul Herger's father, Constantine, had been captioned 'Paul Heger' in error in Clement Shorter's 1896 biography 'Charlotte Brontë And Her Sisters', which may indicate the source of inspiration for the fraudulent claim. When Shorter saw the error replicated in this painting, it was he who raised suspicions about its authenticity.

Finally, to allay any remaining doubt, the painting was shown independently to two witnesses, Lady Anne Thackeray Ritchie, daughter of William Thackeray, and Tabitha Rathliffe, who had been in the Brontë's household of servants. Having known Charlotte Brontë personally both were in the position to make an authoritative physical identification. Both women said the sitter was not Charlotte Brontë and resembled no-one they had ever met.

James Gorin von Grozny

17 February 2017, 16:36

Dear Curators,
The inscription; 'wearing of green for the first time in 3 months' if typically cryptic must be key clue to time and occasion, which must correspond with age of subject, c. 26yrs, and acute circumstances 1841-'42. C.B travelled from Brussells via London to aunt E's funeral, with small/liberating inheritance gave opportunity/means/reason to commission portrait for (to impress) Heger senior, to collect 3 months later via return Jan '42. The left cuff unfinished as if collected in a hurry, perhaps why unsigned. Early Victorian grieving protocol prescribes 3 months for an aunt. Miscellaneous Bronte artefacts show the family were associated with William Henry 'Birds Nest' Hunt among others. The conspicuous genre-portraitist is credited with 'inventing' the white underlay and scraping and scratching techniques of 'pure' w/colour evident in 1444, practised by only a handful of OWS members. The notion 'Miss Vickers' in Victoria's early reign conceivably relates to the dutiful subject's 'alter ego', quintessentially English and studious, The recto inscription is likely merely Paul H's innocent attempt to authenticate the subject. Tate's drawing by Hunt 'Young Man Looking Down' appears made at the same time, when Branwell accompanied C.B to London Jan 1842. If the drawings are contemporary, they will be on rag-paper, wood-pulp introduced later that year. The paper may be from same maker or batch, or same stock-sheet. Would it be possible to collaborate optical analysis of papers to see if the unidentified drawings are related, and reunited brother and sister?

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