Emily Brontë

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Emily Brontë

by Patrick Branwell Brontë
oil on canvas, arched top, circa 1833
21 1/2 in. x 13 3/4 in. (546 mm x 349 mm)
Purchased, 1914
Primary Collection
NPG 1724

On display in Room 21 on Floor 2 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-1848), Painter and poet; brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. Artist or producer associated with 3 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The front page of the popular Daily Graphic magazine of March 6 1914 bore the headline “The Romantic Discovery of Long Lost Brontë Portraits”. The accompanying illustration depicted visitors inspecting two damaged portraits of the Brontë sisters, hung for the first time at the National Portrait Gallery. [1] The rediscovery of the portraits, thought to be long lost, made for a compelling story and generated much public interest. They had been found by Mrs M. A. Nicholls, the second wife of Charlotte Brontë’s widower, on top of a wardrobe at Hill House, Banagher in Ireland. Both portraits were painted by Branwell Brontë, brother to Charlotte, Emily and Anne. The larger group portrait had originally included a portrait of Branwell, but he later painted himself out. This work, having been folded up for many years, was marked by a number of crease lines. The single portrait of Emily is the only surviving fragment of a larger group portrait that included the other sisters and Branwell, who was depicted holding a gun. As Mrs Nicholls, the discoverer of the paintings, explained in a letter to the Gallery, her husband had ‘cut it out of a painting done by Branwell as he thought it good but the others were bad’.
It was unusual for the Gallery to acquire portraits in such a damaged state, and there was much debate about their quality. Elizabeth Gaskell described the group portrait as ‘not much better than sign painting as to the manipulation but the likenesses were, I should think, admirable’. Writing for The Sphere, Clement Shorter expected that by the time of their display restoration would have fully remedied the “ill-treatment derived from over forty years of neglect”. [2] The Gallery concluded, however, that the damaged condition of the portraits was expressive in itself and merited preservation. At the first day of viewing visitors were so numerous that, in the words of the Yorkshire Observer, the Gallery “underwent a minor siege” and today both paintings are still some of the most popular works in the Gallery’s collections.

Related worksback to top

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Events of 1833back to top

Current affairs

Shaftesbury's Factory Act is passed regulating women's hours and providing for the education of children working in the textile industry.
Bank Act is passed, making Bank of England notes Britain's legal tender.

Art and science

Charles Lamb publishes Last Essays of Elia after the enormous success of his earlier Essays. A comic allegorization of his humdrum clerical job they become one of the period's literary sensations.
Charles Dickens begins his series Sketches by Boz in the Monthly Magazine.


Abolition of slavery in the British Empire; 780,000 slaves are freed, £20 million is allocated as compensation for slave owners and a six year apprenticeship system for freed slaves is established.

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Can you tell us more about this portrait? Spotted an error, information that is missing (a sitter’s life dates, occupation or family relationships, or a date of portrait for example) or do you know anything that we don't know? If you have information to share please complete the form below.

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David Jones

22 September 2015, 22:01

The identification as Emily Bronte in this portrait has been disputed since 1914. It is argued that she resembles Anne Bronte in the group portrait of the Bronte Sisters.

There is visual and other information on a website: http://www.brontesisters.co.uk/The-Profile-Portrait-Emily-or-Anne.html

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