Confusing Images - Photo of Charlotte Bronte

This profile photo is still sometimes used as an image of Charlotte Bronte but few historians would use it today.1.It comes from a glass negative found in 1984 at the National Portrait Gallery. A copy made by Emery Walker (1851-1933), about 1918, of an earlier carte de visite photo and the NPGs index card was labelled 'Charlotte Bronte.'

In 1986 a carte de visite of the same photograph was discovered amongst a bequest to the Bronte Museum from a reliable source. This photo has "within a year of CB's death" written on the reverse so it was thought that it must depict Charlotte because of the link to the negative at the NPG. It seemed genuine but was the result of errors made decades earlier. The NPG's negative is a copy of the carte de visite photo in the archives of the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

 

The profile photograph (left) alongside a photo of Ellen Nussey. The first photo is of course earlier but the photographer  'softened' the image which has the effect of blurring the photo slightly, masking lines, wrinkles etc., making the lady look even younger. It was a tool often used by photographers to create a more flattering portrait.2.

Some 50 years later, about 1918 when Emery Walker copied the photo, he thought that it was Charlotte and that the lady looked young enough to have been her. She died aged 38, in 1855. 

 

1. Seearticle by Claire Harman 30 September 2015 in The Times Literary Supplement and Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman.