The Photograph & The Research

The Photograph

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. 

Provenance.

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.

Charlotte Bronte first used the term daguerreotyped early in January 1848 which suggests that she had recently seen a photograph. This was within four weeks of the three sisters secretly becoming published authors; even their own father was unaware, despite the fact that they were all living under the same roof. There is no record of a photo being taken of the Bronte sisters but, given the history of other portraits, there may be very good reasons for this. 1.

Opinions.

The Bronte sisters photo was initially thought to be one of a number of 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 knew of no photograph of the Bronte Sisters. After an enlightening discussion we suggested the use of scientific analysis to determine whether or not the photo is of the Bronte sisters, but, as we understand was the case with Audrey Hall's 'photograph of Charlotte', these methods were not trusted and are not accepted.

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 surface of the copied photo.

The Hats

The hat seen in the photo is the same as those of the early 1860s but they first appeared in England, including Yorkshire, in 1847. They were named 'Jenny Lind' hats after the then famous Swedish opera singer, a person admired by Charlotte Bronte. This style of hat also existed earlier in the decade in 1840s Germany, where Charlotte's lifelong friend, Mary Taylor, spent two years teaching. It was also a type of hat used by Vivandières in certain French regiments.

Comparing Portraits

One major problem in comparing images of the sisters is that over the years several Bronte portraits were wrongly identified. These are still used today and give a very distorted view of what the sisters looked like. If the published portraits are to be believed then Emily was Anne's twin and Charlotte Bronte was Ellen Nussey's twin. This was not the case. An attempt has been made to discover which portraits are wrong or 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 Website Structure

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.

Orientation of the Photo.

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. An 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 

The website was set up in 2012, the aim being to discover whether or not these are the Bronte sisters. The original intention was to thoroughly investigate the photograph but sudden unforeseen commitments prevented this and so it remains a project for the future. Some work is carried out when time permits, a few days each month, and the website is updated once or twice a year.

 

 

1. 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 Anne and Emily. 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. During the half-century 1857-1913 the only images of Charlotte were based on her portrait by George Richmond, considered by friends to be idealised, which probably accounts for the simultaneous destruction and concealment of the other portraits.