No portraits were published of the Bronte Sisters in their lifetime so when
Charlotte died in 1855 the general public had no idea what any of the sisters looked like.
In 1857 the first picture to be published was an engraving (above) of Charlotte,
based on her portrait by George Richmond. Over the following 50 years other portraits were
published but they were all based upon this engraving.
The Richmond Portrait was thought a good likeness by Charlotte, her
husband, her father & Martha Brown but friends and acquaintances considered it a flattered
portrait. One friend, Mary Taylor, thought that it lacked "the veritable square face and large
disproportionate nose" and a self-caricature by Charlotte suggests that her
nose was retrousse. Anne Thackeray Richie thought that "there was a general impression of chin
about her face"
Branwell's 'Pillar Portrait' (below-left) was discovered in 1914. Here,
Charlotte does have more of a square face and straight or retrousse nose, in contrast with the oval
face and aquiline nose in the Richmond Portrait.
By 1914 Charlotte's image was well established for over half a century - in the
form of the Richmond Portrait. As George Richmond was a famous artist, the differences in
Branwell's newly discovered portrait were put down to him being a poor artist. He may have been,
but he was trying to achieve a 'true likeness' whilst George Richmond who "never
consciously flattered" painted "the truth, lovingly told."
George Richmond was interested in physiognomy, as was Charlotte and here she teases the reader
describing Frances Evans Henri, a character based upon herself and her
experiences in Brussels:
"You cannot tell whether her nose was aquiline or retrousse, whether her
chin was long or short, her face square or oval; nor could I the first day, and it is not my
intention to communicate to you at once a knowledge I myself gained by little and little."
This was written in 1846, four years before she sat for the portrait by
Charlotte in her portrait by Branwell Bronte
Charlotte in her portrait by George Richmond,
The portrait by George Richmond was commissioned by her publisher, George
Smith, and was a gift to Charlotte's father. Smith may also have been interested
in physiognomy as in 1851 he visited a phrenologist, with Charlotte, for a reading.
According to George Smith, when the portrait was completed Charlotte burst into
tears because it was so like her late sister Anne. In Branwell's portrait of Anne (left)
she has an oval face and an aquiline nose.