Charlotte Bronte

Two portraits of Charlotte Bronte exist, Branwell's 1830s depiction in the 'Pillar Portrait' and George Richmond's chalk drawing of 1850. Although the latter is a beautiful portrait it is idealised, making any comparison with the photo difficult - see Charlotte's Two Portraits.


Left: If this is Charlotte Bronte in the photo was taken c1848, she would be 32.  
Right: Charlotte Bronte in the 1830s, aged about 18. She had a slightly crooked mouth; it turned downwards on her right. This is detail from the 'Pillar Portrait' painted by her teenage brother, Branwell in the 1830s but it was not seen by the public until 1914.


A description.

Elizabeth Gaskell first met Charlotte in 1850:

"the little lady worked away and hardly spoke but I had time for a good look at her. She is (as she calls herself) UNDEVELOPED, thin, and more than half a head shorter than I am; soft brown hair, not very dark; eyes (very good and expressive, looking straight and open at you) of the same colour as her hair; a large mouth; the forehead square, broad and rather over-hanging. She has a very sweet voice; rather hesitates in choosing her expressions, but when chosen they seem without an effort admirable, and just befitting the occasion; there is nothing overstrained, but perfectly simple."

Eyes as clear as diamonds.

 Many descriptions of Charlotte mention her eyes and Elizabeth Gaskell thought them to be

"...peculiar eyes, of which I find it difficult to give a description, as they appeared to me in her later life. They were large, and well shaped; their colour a reddish brown; but if the iris was closely examined, it appeared to be composed of a great variety of tints. The usual expression was of quiet, listening intelligence; but now and then, on some just occasion for vivid interest or wholesome indignation, a light would shine out, as if some spiritual lamp had been kindled, which glowed behind those expressive orbs. I never saw the like in any other human creature."

"As for the rest of her features, they were plain, large, and ill set; but, unless you began to catalogue them, you were hardly aware of the fact, for the eyes and power of the countenance over-balanced every physical defect; the crooked mouth and large nose were forgotten, and the whole face arrested the attention, and presently attracted all those whom she herself would have cared to attract."

Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell, 1857.

"Charlotte had a very wee foot and small arms, and was [short] sighted" but her eyes were "as clear as diamonds."

A relative of the Bronte family in Ireland who visited Haworth as a boy - published in The Sketch, 10 February 1897

"Many who met Charlotte Brontë were amazed to find that the fierce and vehement Currer Bell was, in fact, a rather plain, terribly shy, and quite proper woman, completely unremarkable in appearance except for eyes of "extraordinary brilliancy and penetration." 2.

"I must confess that my first impression of Charlotte Brontë's personal appearance was that it was interesting rather than attractive. She was very small, and had a quaint old-fashioned look. Her head seemed too large for her body. She had fine eyes, but her face was marred by the shape of the mouth and by the complexion. There was but little feminine charm about her." George Smith 

Over the years, paintings and descriptions of Charlotte's eyes are varied: grey, blue, blue/brown, hazel, light brown and "difficult to describe... but reddish-brown with tints." There is similar confusion over the colour of Emily's eyes.

Detail from Charlotte in Branwell's 'Pillar Portrait' and 'Charlotte' in the photograph.

Charlotte in the photo, Branwell's portrait and the sketch, photographed about 1900.

The only image found which in any way resembles Branwell's version of Charlotte is a profile sketch, photographed about 1900 by A E Hall; a poor reproduction of it is shown above. He thought that this was Anne but the nose is concave. He couldn't have compared it with Branwell's painting because it wasn't discovered until 1914 and in 1900 the only image of Charlotte was her portrait by George Richmond.

Charlotte Bronte, self-caricature, 1843.
This suggests that her nose was slightly retrousse in the sense that it turned up at the bridge.


1. Anne Thackeray Richie (daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray) describing Charlotte. Harold Orel. (ed) "The Brontes - Interviews and Recollections." London 1997, p. 160. 

2. One visitor to the Parsonage was mesmerized by them; although no doubt exaggerated this is his account:

"Altogether she was as unpretending, undemonstrative, quiet a little lady as you could well meet. Her age I took to be about five-and-thirty. But when you saw and felt her eyes, the spirit that created Jane Eyre was revealed at once to you. They were rather small, but of a very peculiar colour, and had a strange lustre and intensity. They were chameleon-like, a blending of various brown and olive tints. But they looked you through and through-and you felt they were forming an opinion of you, not by mere acute noting of Lavaterish physiognomical peculiarities, but by a subtle penetration into the very marrow of your mind, and the innermost core of your soul.

Taking my hand again she apologised for her enforced absence, and, as she did so, she looked right through me. There was no boldness in the gaze, but an intense, direct, searching look, as of one who had the gift to read hidden mysteries, and the right to read them. I had a feeling that I never experienced before or since, as though I was being mesmerised. It was almost a relief when the look was removed, and we sat down together to table. During dinner I had always a feeling that those eyes were on me, when I was looking down myself, and when I looked at her, and her gaze was on her plate, I still could not divest myself of the sensation that those eyes could see one through their lids." The Free Lance, 7 and 14 March, 1868, articles entitled "Charlotte Bronte" and "A Day with Charlotte Bronte [in 1850]" Personal Reminiscences (of John Stores Smith).

3. There is other evidence that Branwell managed to achieve a good likeness. He had a brief career as an artist in Bradford from June 1838 until May 1839 lodging with the Kirby family and their niece, Margaret Hartley. In 1893 she reminisced that “Whilst lodging with us he painted my portrait and those of my uncle and aunt, and all three were accounted good likenesses.” In 1858 William Davies visited Haworth Parsonage, spoke at length with the Rev Patrick Bronte and on leaving was shown Branwell's 'Gun-Group' portrait of his sisters: “It was crude and harsh from a technical point of view but the likenesses were said to be good”

4.The Thompson Portrait is probably based on a photograph of the engraving of the 'Richmond Portrait' published in Elizabeth Gaskell's 1857 biography and not on the original portrait by George Richmond.