2 of 4 portraits of Charlotte Brontë (Mrs A.B. Nicholls)
- Extended catalogue entry
Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue
by George Richmond
23 5/8 in. x 18 3/4 in. (600 mm x 476 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated (bottom left): George Richmond delnt 1850.
This portraitback to top
This drawing was executed on one of Charlotte's rare visits to London. George Smith wrote (Memoir, pp 103-4):
'During Miss Brontë's visit to us in June 1850, I persuaded her to sit to Mr George Richmond for her portrait. This I sent afterwards with an engraving of the portrait of the Duke of Wellington to her father, who was much pleased with them. Mr Richmond mentioned that when she saw the portrait (she was not allowed to see it before it was finished) she burst into tears, exclaiming that it was so like her sister Anne, who had died the year before.'
According to Winifred Gérin the likeness was to Emily, not to Anne. Mrs Stirling (Richmond Papers, p 60) had another explanation for the tears:
'Among other tales of his sitters Richmond used to relate one of Charlotte Brontë. When, on June 13, 1850, she arrived to sit for her portrait, he noticed with perplexity that, after she had removed her hat, on the top of her head there reposed a small square of brown merino! Whether it was employed to prop up her hat, or what was its use, he could not imagine, but at last he observed deferentially: "Miss Brontë, you have a little pad of brown merino on the top of your head - I wonder if I might ask you to remove it?" To his dismay, Charlotte Brontë, nervous and hypersensitive, burst into tears of confusion.'
On her return to Haworth, Charlotte wrote to George Smith (letter of 27 July 1850, Letters, III, 127):
'Papa will write and thank you himself for the portrait when it arrives. As for me, you know, a standing interdict seals my lips ... it is my intention that the original drawing shall one day return to your hands. As the production of a true artist it will always have a certain worth, independently of subject.'
In the same letter, Charlotte Brontë mentioned a copy (untraced). On 1 August she wrote again, acknowledging the portrait's arrival (Letters, III, 130):
'Papa seems much pleased with the portrait, as do the few other persons who have seen it, with one notable exception, viz, our old servant, who tenaciously maintains that it is not like - that it is too old looking ... doubtless she confuses her recollections of me as I was in childhood with present impressions.'
On the same day, she wrote to Ellen Nussey (Letters, III, 129):
'My portrait is come from London ... Papa thinks the portrait looks older than I do - he says the features are far from flattered, but acknowledges that the expression is wonderfully good and life-like.'
The Rev P. Brontë wrote a letter of thanks to Smith on 2 August 1850 (Letters, IIII, 130-1):
'The two portraits have, at length safely arrived, and have been as safely hung up, in the best light and most favourable position. Without flattery the artist, in the portrait of my daughter, has fully proved that the fame which he has acquired has been fairly earned. Without ostentatious display, with admirable tact and delicacy, he has produced a correct likeness, and succeeded in a graphic representation of mind as well as matter, and with only black and white has given prominence and seeming life, and speech, and motion. I may be partial, and perhaps somewhat enthusiastic, in this case, but in looking on the picture, which improves upon acquaintance, as all real works of art do, I fancy I see strong indications of the genius of the author of 'Shirley' and 'Jane Eyre'.'
An unidentified friend wrote to Mrs Gaskell on 3 October 1850 (Letters, III, 168) that 'the Richmond, the solitary ornament of the room, looked strangely out of place on the bare walls'. Mrs Gaskell herself thought the portrait was 'an admirable likeness, though, of course, there is some difference of opinion on the subject; and, as usual, those best acquainted with the original were least satisfied with the resemblance' (Mrs Gaskell's Life, edited Shorter, p 463). The portrait was engraved by J. C. Armytage for the first edition of Mrs Gaskell's Life (1857), and was, thereafter, widely reproduced. Until the rediscovery of the Brontë group (NPG 1725), it was thought to be the only existing likeness of Charlotte.
Referenceback to top
Chapple and Pollard (eds.) 1966
Letters of Mrs Gaskell, edited J. A. V. Chapple and A. Pollard (Manchester, 1966), pp 243, 249, 345, 399, 422-3, 425, 446.
Mrs Gaskell, Life of Charlotte Brontë, edited C. Shorter (1914), pp 57 and n, 463-6 and n, 486, 601 and 618.
W. Gérin, Charlotte Brontë (1967), pp 431 and 441.
George Smith: a Memoir [by S. Lee] with Some Pages of Autobiography, edited Mrs G. M. Smith (privately printed London, 1902), pp 103-4.
G. Richmond, ‘Account Book’ (photostat copy of original MS, NPG archives), p 52, under 1850.
G. Richmond, ‘Extracts from Diaries’ (photostat copy of original MS, NPG archives), under 13 June 1850.
Clement Shorter, Charlotte Brontë and her Circle (1896), pp 293-4.
A. M. W. Stirling, The Richmond Papers (1926), p 60.
Wise and Symington (eds.) 1932
The Brontës: their Lives, Friendships and Correspondence in Four Volumes (Shakespeare Head Brontë, 1932) edited T. J. Wise and J. A. Symington, III, 127, 129, 130-1, 168; IV, 47, 86, 88, 253.
Physical descriptionback to top
Brownish eyes, faint red on the lips and cheeks. In spite of treatment on two or three occasions, damp marks are still visible on the surface of the drawing.
Provenanceback to top
Commissioned by George Smith (Charlotte's publisher), and presented by him to the Rev Patrick Brontë; inherited by the Rev A. B. Nicholls (Charlotte's husband), 1861, and bequeathed by him, 1906 (it entered the collection in 1907).
Exhibitionsback to top
SKM, 1868 (569); VE, 1892 (369).
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.