The Bronte Sisters

This page compares Branwell's portrait "The Bronte Sisters" (NPG 1725) with "The Bronte Sisters Photo"

 "The Bronte Sisters"

 

 

"The Bronte Sisters" (NPG 1725), also known as the "Pillar Portrait," was painted by their brother Branwell in the 1830s. Left to right is Anne, Emily and Charlotte; Branwell is the painted out figure, just visible. The painting was at Haworth Parsonage until 1861 when Charlotte's widower, Arthur Bell Nicholls, took it with him to Ireland. It remained hidden for over five decades and was thought lost until it was 'discovered' by Mr Nicholls' widow in 1913. This is the only surviving group portrait of the sisters.

Most contemporary comments on Branwell's portrait paintings agreed that they were "poorly executed" but there was no criticism of the resemblances, which were considered "good." For Elizabeth Gaskell, his depiction of Charlotte bore a "striking resemblance" to her.

 "The Bronte Sisters Photo"

"The Bronte Sisters Photo" dates to about 1857 but if it is a copy of an 1840s daguerreotype then the original would be a reversed image, similar to the picture below, with 'Charlotte' on the right.1. It is interesting to compare this alongside Branwell's group portrait.

 "The Bronte Sisters" Portrait & "The Bronte Sisters Photo"

Above left: "The Bronte Sisters" (NPG 1725) painted in the 1830s. 
Above right: "The Bronte Sisters Photo" (reversed).

Branwell's 'Pillar Portrait' as originally envisaged used triangular composition and he would have stood over his seated sisters. His ghostly figure can just be made out in the centre (the pillar), where he painted himself out. He was actually shorter than Emily so this conveniently exaggerated his height, allowing him to form the apex of the implied triangle.

If the 'Bronte Sisters Photo' is a copy of a daguerreotype then this would have been a reversed image (as shown here) with the three 'sisters' seemingly seated in the same order as in the Pillar Portrait.2. The photo also utilises triangular composition with 'Emily' seated sideways, at a higher level, her height is exaggerated to form the apex.

Close examination of Branwell's portrait reveals that the three sisters have three different nose shapes: Anne = convex, Emily = straight, Charlotte = concave and this is the same for the respective 'sisters' in the photograph.

 

1. A daguerreotype was almost always a reversed image. Being a mirror image, any visible text such as a shop sign, would appear back to front. The same was true for most collodion photos of the 1850s. At this time if a daguerreotype was copied (i.e. photographed) it would again reverse the image so any writing in the copied photo would read correctly.

2. In this reversed image Charlotte's slightly crooked mouth turns down on the wrong side and her hair is parted on the wrong side.