Publication of George Richmond's Portrait of Charlotte Bronte
Engraving of George Richmond's portrait of Charlotte, 1857.
After pressure was applied to Arthur Nicholls but eventually he relented.
Charlotte's portrait was photographed, an engraving was made and it appeared in the biography
(1857). Here, Elizabeth Gaskell commented on this portrait and Branwell's group portrait of the
She considered George Richmond's portrait to be "an admirable
likeness" but this is ambiguous, it could mean
"an admirable resemblance" or
"an admirable portrait." When
read in context it can only mean the latter because she then states that "those closest to
Charlotte" were "least satisfied with the resemblance" before going on to
praise Branwell's portrait.
She describes Branwell's 'Pillar Portrait' of his sisters as a poor painting but
was surprised by "...the striking resemblance which Charlotte ...
bore to her own representation, though it must have been ten years and more since the
portraits were taken. They were good likenesses, however badly
executed.” Charlotte would have been standing next to the portrait when Mrs
Gaskell viewed it in 1853 and these remarks imply that her appearance had changed very little in
The careful wording is perhaps partly due to Charlotte's widower
and the fact that Elizabeth Gaskell's publisher was George Smith, the man who had commissioned
the portrait seven years earlier. The pictures could easily depict two different women. If Gaskell
was correct then Branwell's oil painting is a poor portrait but the resemblance is good; Richmond's
is a good portrait but the resemblance is poor.
LEFT: Charlotte with an oval face and convex nose in
portrait. RIGHT: Charlotte
with a square face and straight or concave nose in Branwell's 'Pillar Portrait'
When Arthur Nicholls Initially withheld permission to publish the portrait,
Ellen Nussey, in a letter to Elizabeth Gaskell, wrote that "there would always have been regret
for its painful expression to be perpetuated." A friend of Charlotte, Laetitia Wheelwright,
thought the portrait was "entirely flattering." Charlotte's
close friend, Mary Taylor, criticised the publication of a "flattered
likeness" lacking "the veritable square face" and
the "large, disproportionate nose." Within Haworth Parsonage there
were mixed views, some of these are in letters from Charlotte and her father thanking George
Mrs Pitt Byrne on George Richmond in general, and Charlotte's portrait:
"No one perhaps ever succeeded in that marvellous idealisation of a
sitter as George Richmond; he sets before him a man and lo! He makes him a poem, and what is
more inexplicable is that rare genius of his...there is no want of truthfulness to
nature. I don't know nor do I care whether he copies the features - between
ourselves I don't believe he does - but what of that? He gives you the mind, character, the
inner-self of his sitter, and always with a facile grace, which while it transfigures the
subject, still faithfully reproduces him... An example of this can be seen in the
pleasing portrait of Charlotte Bronte which he drew... with the bright eyes and charming
expression illuminating features that would otherwise have been
In 1858, John Ruskin commented on his own portrait by George Richmond:
"You know I quite agree with the Daily News about the portrait. in fact,
I don't consider it a portrait at all, but merely a pleasant fancy of me by George
George Richmond painted "the truth, lovingly told" but Branwell
Bronte tried to achieve a true likeness.