The "Profile Portrait" - Emily or Anne?
The Profile Portrait – Emily or Anne?
The Profile Portrait was identified as Emily Bronte in
1914 and purchased by the National Portrait Gallery. Within two weeks this was
challenged1. and the question has been debated ever
Is this Emily Bronte or Anne Bronte?
A photo taken c1857 but not discovered about
1990. This is the original "Gun-Group" Portrait. The "Profile
Portrait" is the figure on the far right.
Tracings from the "Gun Group" made either c1835 or
The "Profile Portrait" is the figure on the far right.
The “Gun-Group” was an 1830s painting by Branwell Bronte
depicting him stood holding a gun with his three sisters seated at a table. Charlotte Bronte's
husband destroyed most of the painting in the 1860s, apart from the right-hand figure, known
as the "Profile Portrait," but is this Emily or Anne?
The Physical Evidence.
Although the rest of the "Gun-Group" was destroyed, tracings of the female
figures have survived; there is also a poor photo of the original painting and an engraving made
from the photo.
Identification in the past.
The sitters in the “Gun-Group” were identified by two reliable contemporary
Martha Brown (the Bronte’s servant) owned an
1850s photograph of the portrait and provided the description 2. when the engraving of it was made for a
book in 1879.
Ellen Nussey (Charlotte’s lifelong friend) was shown
this engraving in the 1890s, remembered the original painting and initialled the engraving as
seen on the right.2a
Both identified the sitters from left to right as: Emily, Charlotte, Branwell
Photo of an engraving based
on photo of the
Portrait" relates to the figure on the far right.
Visual identification using the tracings.
Ellen Nussey stated that “Anne was quite different in appearance from the
others” 2b so it should be possible to
differentiate between Emily and Anne.
The tracings below relate to the figures on the left and right of the
“Gun-Group;” one will be Emily and the other Anne. One sister has a
straight nose and the other an aquiline nose.
These are compared here with Emily and Anne in the only surviving
group portrait, known as the “Pillar Portrait.” From Elizabeth Gaskell’s
description of this painting (1857) we know that the smaller sister is Anne. She has
an aquiline nose and this is confirmed by other portraits of Anne created by
Emily & George Henry Lewes.
There are no other ‘identified’ portraits of Emily but a strong clue as to
her looks can be found in a letter by Charlotte concerning George Henry
"face almost moves me to tears—it is so wonderfully like Emily—her
eyes, her features—the very nose, the somewhat prominent mouth, the forehead—even at moments
the expression." 3.
Emily didn't look like Lewes in this photograph of him as a much older
man but we can see that his nose was not aquiline; it was straight and at a similar
angle to Emily's in the Pillar Portrait. "The very nose" can also be compared
with the tracings.
The right-hand tracing represents the "Profile Portrait"
identified as Emily since 1914.
Height of the sisters.
Photo of the
"Gun-Group" Portrait taken c1857.
The figure on the right of
the "Gun-Group" is depicted by Branwell as the smallest of the three sisters. This
is unlikely to be Emily as she was the tallest and the tallest figure in his painting
is on the far left. Anne was the youngest, born in 1820, and would be about 15 years-old if
the picture dates to 1835.
Clement King Shorter & Arthur Bell Nicholls.
The evidence supporting identification of the "Profile Portrait"
as Emily has always been contradictory. The historian, Clement Shorter, wrote (1896) that Mr
Nicholls (Charlotte Bronte's widower): “Being of opinion that the only accurate portrait
[in the Gun-Group] was that of Emily, he cut this out and destroyed the remainder.”
The portrait found in Mr Nicholl's house in 1914, eight years after his death,
was the "Profile Portrait." This though is the figure in the engraving identified
by Martha Brown (1879) and Ellen Nussey (c1895) as Anne.
Shorter continued: “The portrait of Emily was given to Martha Brown, the
servant, on one of her visits to Mr. Nicholls.” This was contradicted in 1914 by Mrs Nicholls
stating that the painting had never left their house in Ireland.5. It is also known that whilst Martha Brown did own
a portrait of Emily it was not an oil painting.
The Public Image.
These discrepancies are due in part to a refusal by Mr
Nicholls to admit that a portrait of Charlotte existed other than the
idealised "Richmond Portrait" (below) which he had authorised for publication
in 1857. Shorter wasn’t aware of this and took him at his word, to a degree.
An example of this is when Shorter sent a photo of the
"Pillar Portrait" (right) to Mr Nicholls who replied:
"The likenesses are very bad - The left hand corner has something of the
expression of Anne - The others I should not recognise."
This is despite the fact that his deceased wife (Charlotte) is on the
right. As a result Shorter published this image in Woman at Home in August
1897, identifying her as her Aunt Branwell.
It would appear that Shorter had his own idea of what Emily looked
like, hence the title in capitals placing Emily to the left (which is in fact Anne), but including
in small italics "the portrait on the extreme left bears a certain resemblance to
Anne" so as not to contradict Arthur Bell Nicholls.
Shorter made several visits to Mr Nicholls and corresponded with him for
over 10 years, the subject of Bronte portraits often arising. During this entire period the
original portraits were languishing in a wardrobe upstairs in Mr Nicholl's house, but
he said nothing; this evasiveness led to Shorter’s confusion.
This was demonstrated again in 1906 in a letter6. by Shorter to The Times stating that only one
photograph of Mr Nicholls existed when in fact there were at least six. He went on to
say that this "one photo" which was published in his book, was taken at the time of
Mr Nicholl’s marriage to Charlotte in 1854. It was actually taken on his second marriage in
In 1914, when the "Profile Portrait" was found, he jumped to
the conclusion that this was the "portrait of Emily Bronte" seen by William
Robertson Nicoll when he visited Martha Brown in 1879. He didn't ask Robertson Nicoll
though; if he had, he would have discovered that although Martha Brown's portrait was of
Emily, it was by Charlotte and not Branwell.6a.
Mrs Nicholl's Identification in 1914.
The "Profile Portrait" (right) was discovered in 1914, eight
years after the death of Mr Nicholls, and identified by his widow as Emily. This is
despite the fact that it had been hidden away in a wardrobe for 50 years and Mrs Nicholls had never
met Emily or Anne.
The only way she could have identified the portrait is through seeing
the only published portrait of Emily (left). This had been published in error 14 years earlier; it
was in fact a portrait based on the right-hand figure in the 1879 engraving (i.e. the
"Profile Portrait" - right) which had been identified by
Martha Brown and Ellen Nussey as Anne.
The tracings - identification & ages.
The tracings of the "Gun-Group" support the identification of
the Profile Portrait as Emily as they are labelled in pencil L-R: Anne, Charlotte, Emily. When
these tracings were discovered in 1932 it was thought that John Greenwood had created them and
that he had labelled them, but he died some 70 years earlier so this was an assumption. We
know that Charlotte and her husband did not want any portraits published so it is unlikely
that they let John Greenwood loose with tracing paper and pencil, especially as he was the
In the tracing of Charlotte her right shoulder is visible, as well as her
left hand. In the photo of the portrait her shoulder isn't visible and in place of her hand is an
object on the table. Are these differences due to Branwell when he created the painting, or to
someone who traced it?
It isn't known whether the tracings predate or postdate the picture so it isn't
known who created them. We don't know who identified each of the tracings but this is
suspicious; the ages given are in Gaskell's biography of Charlotte, but for a different group
portrait (the Pillar Portrait). There is a year or more difference between the creation of these
The identification by two of the most reliable sources, Martha Brown and Ellen
Nussey, carries a great deal of weight. This has to be balanced against Clement Shorter's,
which was muddled, influenced by a vague and evasive Mr Nicholls; it can
also be proved in part to be wrong. Mrs Nicholls identification seems to
be based on an earlier error, possibly made by Clement Shorter, and can't be relied
There is no doubt that the tracings relate to the "Gun-Group,"
whether they predate or postdate the portrait, but the names and ages written on
them, are suspect.
The visual evidence is more dependable. Branwell has depicted the
right-hand figure as the smallest of the group which suggests that this is Anne. Comparison of
the tracings with Anne and Emily in the Pillar Portrait, to us, makes it clear that the right-hand
tracing is Anne.
For the reasons given, the Profile Portrait is treated on this
website as a portrait of Anne; if more evidence comes to light in support of either Emily or
Anne it will be added to this page.
The Profile Portrait - Emily or Anne?
Voices from the
"Sentiment and tradition give this lovely profile to Emily, but the
resemblance to the figure of Anne in the [Pillar Portrait] group would suggest
Daphne Du Maurier, 'The infernal world of
Branwell Brontë' 1960, p. 99
"if the soul, as I believe, forms its own
body, this single [Profile] portrait, alone among the portraits of the Bronte sisters,
deserves to be Emily, for here only, through Branwell's inexpertness, shines the power and poetry
which were her inalienable characteristics."
'Life and Eager Death of Emily Bronte' 1936, p. 369.
art historian or artist should review the whole matter and give an expert opinion."
Ingeborg Nixon, 'The Bronte Portraits - Some old problems and a new
discovery' in Bronte Society Transactions, Volume 13, Part 68, 1958,
The Profile Portrait at the National Portrait Gallery
H. Chadwick, Portraits of the Brontes - Emily or Anne: The Yorkshire Post, 19 March 1914, P. 6 Col.
7. Article reprinted from The Morning Post. See also the following:
Simpson, Charles, Emily Bronte. London: Countrylife, 1929. A NOTE ON THE PORTRAITS, pp.
Virginia Moore 'Life and Eager Death of Emily Bronte' 1936, 'NOTE ON THE PORTRAIT OF EMILY BRONTE'
Nixon, 'The Bronte Portraits - Some old problems and a new discovery.' Bronte Society Transactions,
Volume 13, Part 68, 1958, pp.232-238.
Dame Myra Curtis, 'The Profile Portrait,'
Bronte Society Transactions The Journal of Bronte Studies, Volume 13, Part 69, 1959 , pp.
2. "Anne is on
Branwell's left, Charlotte on the right, and Emily to the right of Charlotte."
This is the published description which doesn't make sense and it can't be a
coincidence that it is describing an image which has been reversed. Martha
Brown will have given her description of the painting when Horsfall Turner visited and viewed her
photo on glass. This was a small, framed collodion photo and these present a reversed image so the
description needs to be read whilst viewing the portrait as Martha Brown would have seen it -
reversed. (see images to the right).
Collodion photos are (underexposed) glass negatives and
Martha's was sent to a Bradford photographer in 1879 who printed
it (orientation correct) as a carte de visite (small photo on a card mount). The engraving
was made from this cdv to illustrate Horsfall Turner's book Haworth Past and
Present, published 1879. The description in the book - buried in the text on another page
- wasn't altered to take the reversal into account. For the PDF
version of the Horsfall Turner's book click here - the image is between pages 136-7 &
the description is on p.170.
Martha Brown also owned a
(collodion) photo of the Pillar Portrait which would also be a reversed image. She worked as a
servant at Haworth Parsonage for 21 years and owned the photographs from the 1850s until her
death in 1880. There may have been a third photograph.
The engraving as published in Haworth
Past and Present.
"Anne is on Branwell's left, Charlotte on the right, and
Emily to the right of Charlotte."
It makes no sense.
The photograph as Martha Brown viewed it
- as a reversed image.
"Anne is on Branwell's left, Charlotte on the right,
and Emily to the right of Charlotte."
Because it is reversed, what is now the
Profile Portrait appears on the left.
2a. Simpson, Charles. Emily Bronte. London: Countrylife, 1929. Image faces p.
2b. Reminiscences of Charlotte
Brontë. Ellen Nussey. Scribner's Monthly, an illustrated magazine for the people Volume 2 Issue 1
3. “I have seen Lewes too—he is a man with both weaknesses and sins; but unless I err
greatly the foundation of his nature is not bad—and were he almost a fiend in character—I could not
feel otherwise to him than half sadly half tenderly—a queer word the last—but I use it because the
aspect of Lewes's face almost moves me to tears—it is so wonderfully like Emily—her eyes, her
features—the very nose, the somewhat prominent mouth, the forehead—even at moments the expression:
whatever Lewes does or says I believe I cannot hate him.”
Letter from Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, 12
4. "After Mr. Bronte's death Mr. Nicholls removed it to Ireland. Being of opinion that the
only accurate portrait was that of Emily, he cut this out and destroyed the remainder. The portrait
of Emily was given to Martha Brown, the servant, on one of her visits to Mr. Nicholls, and I have
not been able to trace it. There are three or four so-called portraits of Emily in existence, but
they are all repudiated by Mr. Nicholls as absolutely unlike her."5. Mrs Nicholls
stated in a letter to the press (through a family friend, Rev Sharrard) that the portraits had never left the house in Ireland, probably after
questioning the housemaids:
Shorter, Clement K: Charlotte Bronte and Her
Circle, ed. 1896, p.123 footnote.
“Sir, I have received a copy of the “Morning
Post” containing an article animadverting on some information I had recently forwarded to the
King’s County Chronicle with reference to the above. I may state that your account of the
discovery, &c., of the pictures – though not quite correct- was nearer the truth than any of
the accounts I read in other newspapers. The facts are as follows:
The pictures sent by Mrs. Nicholls to the
National Gallery have been at The Hill House, Banagher, ever since they were brought there by the
late Rev. A. B. Nicholls. The single one of Emily [?] – cut out of a
large portrait containing three sisters – was preserved by Mr. Nicholls. The rest of picture, with
the portraits of his wife Charlotte and Anne [?], was handed to Martha
Brown – who lived at The Hill House for upwards of eight years – not for preservation, but to be
destroyed, and it is believed it was destroyed by her. I need not go into all the reasons for this
action on the part of Mr. Nicholls.
You see, therefore, that I was correct in
saying that the picture of Emily forwarded to the National Gallery was never in Martha Brown’s
possession, though I was mistaken in implying that Mr. Nicholls had ever given any portrait to
Martha Brown. I have the above facts on the best living authority. Yours
James J. Sherrard., Banagher, March 8,
Page location here (external website).
6.The Times, Friday 7
December 1906; P.12
6a. Shorter assumed
the newly discovered Profile Portrait to be the same portrait of Emily seen
by William Robertson Nicoll in 1879, probably having read his artice from 1908 in The (British?)
"I shall never cease to regret that I did
not buy the portrait she [Martha] had of Emily Bronte, though I got a few other things. I did
not buy it because I could not well afford it, and it has been irrevocably lost. I have made
many efforts since, and have been helped by many of Martha Brown's relatives. But that
really fine and expressive painting has hopelessly
disappeared and now we have nothing that deserves to be called a likeness of that highly
Ingeborg Nixon, 'The Bronte Portraits - Some old problems and a new
discovery.' Bronte Society Transactions, Volume 13, Part 68, 1958,
Robertson Nicoll though had already written about
his visit to Martha in The Bookman, some 18 years earlier; he had purchased, amongst
other things, a pencil portrait of Anne Bronte:
"... In July, 1879, I paid a visit
to Haworth... "I deeply regret that I cannot add a portrait of the greatest genius among the
sisters, Emily Bronte. Martha Brown possessed a very clearly and boldly drawn pencil
sketch of Emily by Charlotte, which I in vain endeavoured to purchase. After her
death, what she left was divided among four sisters, with all of whom I communicated without
succeeding even in tracing the picture. ..."
Sir William Robertson Nicoll, The Bookman,
Volume 1, Hodder and Stoughton, November, 1891 p. 63
The portrait of Emily seen by Robertson Nicoll was
either a pencil sketch or pencil/watercolour by Charlotte, not an oil painting by
For more information
about Clement Shorter see the article 'The Brontës and the conmen' by Mark Bostridge in the
Times Literary Supplement, 30 September 2015.