This photo is still sometimes used as an image of Charlotte Bronte
and as recently as November 2015 it represented Charlotte on the Bronte
Society's website but this has been shown to be incorrect.1.
The profile photo comes from a glass negative which was found in 1984 at the
National Portrait Gallery. It is a copy made by Emery Walker (1851-1933), about 1918, of an
earlier carte de visite photo. The NPGs index card was labelled 'Charlotte
In 1986 a carte de visite of the same photograph was discovered
amongst a bequest to the Bronte Museum from a reliable source. This photo had "within a
year of CB's death" written on the reverse so it was thought that it must
depict Charlotte because of the link to the negative at the NPG. It seemed genuine
but was the result of errors made decades earlier. The NPG's negative is a copy of the carte de
visite photo in the archives of the Bronte Parsonage Museum.
The profile photograph (left), thought by some to be of Charlotte
Bronte, compared with a photo of Ellen Nussey. The first photo is of course earlier but
the photographer 'softened' the image which has the effect of blurring the photo slightly,
masking lines, wrinkles etc., making the lady look even younger. 2.
It wasn't done to deceive people; it was a tool often used by
photographers and created a more flattering portrait.
Some 50 years later, about 1918 when Emery Walker copied the photo,
he thought that it was Charlotte and that the lady looked young enough to have been
her. She died aged 38, in 1855.
Left: Chalk portrait of Charlotte Bronte?
Right: Photo of Ellen Nussey.
In 2004 a chalk portrait, assumed to be of Charlotte Bronte, was added to the
BPM archives.3. Some history is given in Claire Harman's biography of
Charlotte although there is not necessarily a Brussels connection.4. Opinions differ as to the
identity of the lady and Elizabeth Gaskell has been suggested but her kind,
gentle features may be those of Ellen Nussey. If Charlotte did bear such a close
resemblance to Ellen then it would have been commented upon.
Ellen Nussey (1817-97) in later years;
she first met Charlotte in 1831 and was her lifelong
Elizabeth Gaskell (1810-65); a friend of Charlotte 1850-55. This is the closest to a full
photographic profile so far discovered. Her nose is aquiline and there is no
inward curve between the eyes. These features are more evident in
other images of her.
See also: Facial recognition software solves Gaskell mystery.
(University of Manchester website)
1. There is a
fuller explanation in an
article by Claire Harman (30 September 2015) on The Times Literary Supplement
2. Other researchers certainly had their suspicions
for some years, and may well have discovered this before now. The earliest mention found is in a
book review in 2011 by James Gorin von Grozny; the photos were researched and compared by Bernd
3. BPM cat no. 2004/47.1 "portrait of Charlotte
Bronte done in chalk." See http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_yorkshire/4127959.stm
At the time (2004) it was thought that there were four other
portraits of Charlotte in existence: Pillar Portrait, Richmond Portrait, Thompson Portrait and
the profile photograph discussed on this page.
4. Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman. P.161-2. The lady in the chalk
portrait is similar to the 'Profile Photograph' which at the time (2004-5) was thought to depict
Charlotte Bronte. The connection with Brussels was a theory. If this is a friend of
Charlotte and the estimated date of about 1840 is correct then it is more likely to be
of Ellen Nussey as Charlotte didn't meet Elizabeth Gaskell until 1850.