Bronte Portraits

Many images of the Bronte sisters have been published over the past 160 years but some of these were wrongly identified, others are disputed or are known to be idealised.

The most accurate depiction of all three sisters is generally considered to be in the group 'Pillar' portrait at the National Portrait Gallery.

The 'Pillar Portrait'

The 'Pillar portrait' - left to right: Anne, Emily, Charlotte.

Only one group portrait painting survives of all three Bronte Sisters, painted in the 1830s by their teenage brother Branwell. It is known as the 'Pillar portrait' because, before completion, Branwell painted his own figure out of the picture. His outline is just visible behind the pillar. The painting was seen by people visiting Rev Patrick Bronte at Haworth Parsonage in the 1850s. It is obviously not a masterpiece but, as with the destroyed group portrait, visitors were told that the resemblances were good. There is a description of the painting in Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte Bronte (1857).

The painting was at Haworth Parsonage until the death of Rev Patrick Bronte in 1861 when Charlotte's widower, Arthur Bell Nicholls, took it with him to Ireland. The portrait was hidden away in a wardrobe in his house. A photo of it was sent to him in the 1890s but he was rather vague and neglected to point out that it depicted his first wife Charlotte. Arthur Bell Nicholls died in 1906 but the painting wasn't discovered until 1914.

The 'Gun Group' & 'Profile Portrait'

A second 1830s group portrait by Branwell, known as the 'Gun group' was also taken to Ireland by Arthur Bell Nicholls but he destroyed it, with the exception of the right-hand figure.

An 1850s photo of Branwell's 1830s 'Gun-Group.'

This photograph survives of the original painting but the features are not clear.

The tracings are labelled L-R: Anne, Charlotte, Emily.

Tracings of the female figures in the portrait exist but it is not known whether these were created by Branwell whilst composing the portrait in the 1830s, or traced by someone in the 1850s. They are labelled but it is not known who did this, or when.

An engraving, made from the photo of the 'Gun-Group' portrait in 1879. The figures were identified by the Bronte's servant, Martha Brown, and Charlotte's close friend, Ellen Nussey. Unlike the tracings they placed Anne on the right and Emily on the left.

The 'Profile Portrait' (NPG 1724)at the NPG.

The only surviving fragment of the 'Gun-Group' portrait is the right-hand figure, known as the 'Profile portrait,' found along with the 'Pillar portrait' in 1914. Identified at the NPG as "Emily Bronte" (NPG 1724) this has been disputed since the painting was discovered. She is almost certainly Anne.

Portraits of Anne.

 There are three undisputed portraits of Anne Bronte by Charlotte and one by Branwell (in the 'Pillar' portrait).

Portraits of Emily.

The only undisputed portrait of Emily Bronte is in Branwell's group 'Pillar' portrait (below).

As Charlotte created a pencil sketch and a miniature watercolour of Anne she probably produced portraits of Emily. One is missing, an apparently 'lost' pencil sketch, last seen in 1879. The only one of Charlotte's miniature watercolours to remain unidentified is of a young woman who resembles 'Emily' in the 'Bronte Sisters Photo.'

Some Idealised, Mistaken and Contested Images.

 There are many idealised, mistaken or contested images, some of these are explained in the Confusing Portraits pages.


Pencil portrait by Charlotte. Possibly an idealised self-portrait.


Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond, 1850. A beautiful but idealised portrait.

Charlotte Bronte by John Hunter Thompson, derived from George Richmond's portrait.

A photo once thought to be of Charlotte Bronte is of her friend Ellen Nussey.

Portrait of Emily derived from the figure of Anne in the 'Pillar' portrait.

Portrait of Emily, thought to be an anonymous woman in a fashion plate.

Portrait of Emily derived from the r/h figure in the engraving of the 'Gun Group.'

Tracings from the 'Gun Group' labelled L-R:
 Anne, Charlotte, Emily.

The 'Profile' portrait - Emily or Anne?

Engraving of the 'Gun Group' labelled by Ellen Nussey L-R:
Emily, Charlotte, Anne.

Watercolour portrait by Charlotte of an unknown woman, possibly Emily Bronte.