This is a collodion photo with "The Bronte Sisters" written in
French on the reverse, however this type of photograph on glass only existed from the
early 1850s, after the death of Emily (1848) and Anne (1849).
The researcher's experience in photography spans three decades and includes
printing thousands of photographs from glass negatives such as this. He believes that this is a
copy of an earlier 1840s photo known as a daguerreotype. The photo is on a slight slant and
has the appearance of having been cropped. This is how daguerreotypes were often copied, at an
angle to avoid reflections and centred to avoid marks at the edges of the original photo.
The image is in a photographic archive in Scotland. As with most photos there is
virtually no provenance and it can only be traced back to the previous owners in France. It is
thought that they purchased it in the Paris area.
Photographs of the Bronte Sisters.
There is no record of a group photo being taken of the Bronte sisters but, given
the history of other portraits, there may be very good reasons for this. When asked by her
publisher for portraits of her sisters, Charlotte denied that
any existed, but within Haworth Parsonage were Branwell's two group
portraits and several of her own portraits of her sisters. After Charlotte's death her
widower destroyed correspondence and suppressed images of the sisters by burning most
of one group portrait and hiding the other away for five decades.
When the photo was purchased it was assumed that it was one of many copies
sold to visitors in 1850s Haworth but this turned out not to be the case. The Bronte Parsonage
Museum viewed the photo in 2011 but could find no mention of a group photograph of
the Bronte Sisters.
A visit to the National Media Museum proved inconclusive; one member of staff
said that it was unlikely to be a copy because they are far less common than original photos,
another said that “it has that look of a copy about it.” The NMM couldn't help because it
wasn't thought possible to confirm whether a photograph is an original, taken of people from
several feet away, or a copy of a photo taken from several inches away. Since then, photographic
historians have suggested that as there are blemishes on the photo it may be possible to determine
whether these are on the photo or - if a copy - on the copied photo.
The hats are similar to those seen in England in the early 1860s. In 1840s
Europe this style of hat was unique to Germany, where Charlotte's lifelong friend, Mary Taylor,
spent two years teaching.
One major problem in comparing images of the sisters is that over the years
several Bronte portraits were wrongly identified. These are still published today and
give a very distorted view of what the sisters looked like. An attempt has been made to discover
which portraits are misleading so that a fair comparison can be made with the ladies in the photo.
Where possible, only contemporary descriptions have been used, by people who actually knew or met
the Bronte sisters. The research is carried out in spare time, a few days each month, so it will be
a while before the mystery is solved.
The website is divided into sections. In COMPARE
PORTRAITS the undisputed portraits are listed followed by those
considered to be idealised, mistaken or wrongly identified. Genuine images
of Charlotte, Emily and Anne are then compared with the ladies in the photo. Three
sections focus on the decades 1840s-1860s;
the theory is that a daguerreotype photograph was taken in the
1840s and that this is a collodion copy made in
the 1850s. The photo is in effect a glass negative and there is evidence
that a print on paper was in London in the 1860s. There
is a SUMMARY but as yet no conclusion.
More detailed information on several portraits of the
Bronte sisters is in the section Confusing Portraits.
If the 1850s collodion photo is a copy of an 1840s daguerreotype
then it is correctly orientated with 'Charlotte' on the left, her hair parted on her left
and crooked mouth turning down on her right. The original daguerreotype would however have
been a reversed image, and viewed as below, with 'Charlotte' on the right and composition
similar to Branwell's group portrait at the NPG.
The website was set up in 2012 and is updated once or twice a year.