Confusing Images - Photo of Charlotte Bronte

This profile photo is still sometimes published as an image of Charlotte Bronte but few historians would use it today. The image is from a glass negative found in 1984 at the National Portrait Gallery in London with the index card labelled 'Charlotte Bronte.'

At Haworth, in 1986, a carte de visite (small photo on paper) of the same image 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 appeared to confirm identification as Charlotte.

It seemed genuine but was the result of an error made decades earlier. The photo at the NPG was a copy made c1918 by the photographer, Emery Walker, from the carte de visite photo (now at Haworth) which was then privately owned. At the BPM is another copy of the carte de visite photo from another source with "Ellen Nussey" written on the reverse. This is a portrait of Ellen Nussey (1817-97), taken "within a year of CB's death" and not a portrait of Charlotte Bronte. 1.

The profile photograph (left) alongside a photo of Ellen Nussey.

LEFT: Audrey Hall's photo. RIGHT: Photo of Ellen Nussey.

In the early 1990s a photo was discovered by Audrey Hall. It was amongst items originally purchased when the contents of Ellen Nussey's home were sold in the 1890s. Audrey thought this was a photo of Charlotte Bronte because of the resemblance to the lady in the profile photo. The research into the photo was filmed and can be seen in the very interesting BBC documentary Charlotte Bronte Unmasked (1995). Tests were carried out using forensic technology and this appeared to confirm that the two photos were of the same lady. 2.

Since the 1990s and the advent of the internet more photographs of Ellen Nussey have emerged. Audrey Hall was justified in believing that the two photos are of the same woman but the 1980s identification of the 'profile photo' as Charlotte Bronte had been wrong. Both photos are of Ellen Nussey.



1. See article by Claire Harman 30 September 2015 in The Times Literary Supplement and Charlotte Brontë: A Life by Claire Harman.

2. The full version of Charlotte Bronte Unmasked can be found on the internet, sometimes requiring a private browser, but the BBC title page description and a brief clip is here: 

The evidence for the second photo was never accepted.

3. See also the "Chalk portrait of Charlotte Bronte."