'The Brontë Sisters'
'The Brontė Sisters'  (c.1835)  -  restored and extended portrait The original'The Brontë Sisters'
by Patrick Branwell Brontë  -  c. 1835

This portrait, sometimes referred to as 'The Pillar Portrait', has here been restored and extended by myself. The small picture is a copy of the original, showing its dilapidated state. Anne is on the left with Emily in the centre and Charlotte on the right. Originally, their brother, Branwell, had begun painting himself in the picture but ultimately decided to paint himself out by replacing his image with a 'pillar'. This must have been done before the painting was completed as recent x-rays, which clearly show his image, indicate that it is incomplete. Badly mixed oil paints can have a tendency to become translucent with age, and as a result of Branwell's inexperience in this area, his own ghostly image can now be seen 'in the pillar'.

A much larger, higher quality version of this image is available - BRONTES.JPG  (142K)

(Original: Oil on canvas, 902 x 746 mm. [35.5" x 29.5"] )

The original is on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

We are fortunate that this, the only portrait of the three sisters together, has survived. Shortly after Patrick's death in 1861, Charlotte's husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls, took the portrait back to Ireland with him where he placed it, folded, on the top shelf of a wardrobe; and there it lay (along with the Emily fragment from the 'Gun Group Portrait') for the next fifty three years, being discovered, and subsequently sold in 1914, by his second wife, Mary Anne Nicholls, after Arthur's death in 1906. Charlotte's friend and eventual biographer, Elizabeth Gaskell, was shown the portrait by Charlotte during her first visit to the Parsonage in September 1853 (several years after Anne and Emily, whom she had never met, had died). In her biography, 'The Life of Charlotte Brontë', written two years after Charlotte's death, she described the event, and the portrait, thus:

'. . . there could be no doubt about Branwell's talent for drawing. I have seen an oil painting of his, done I know not when . . . It was a group of his sisters, life size, three-quarters' length; not much better than sign-painting, as to manipulation; but the likenesses were, I should think, admirable. I could only judge of the fidelity with which the other two were depicted, from the striking resemblance which Charlotte, upholding the great frame of canvas, and consequently standing right behind it, bore to her own representation, though it must have been ten years and more since the portraits were taken. The picture was divided, almost in the middle, by a great pillar. On the side of the column which was lighted by the sun, stood Charlotte, in the womanly dress of that day of jigot sleeves and large collars. On the deeply shadowed side, was Emily, and Anne's gentle face resting on her shoulder. Emily's countenance struck me as full of power; Charlotte's of solicitude; Anne's of tenderness. The two younger seemed hardly to have attained their full growth, though Emily was taller than Charlotte; they had cropped hair, and a more girlish dress. I remember looking on those two sad, earnest, shadowed faces, and wondering whether I could trace the mysterious expression which is said to foretell an early death. I had some fond superstitious hope that the column divided their fates from hers, who stood apart in the canvas, as in life she survived. . . . They were good likenesses, however badly executed.' 45

Restoration work Copyright © 1999 Michael Armitage

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