Today is 24th September. On this day, in 1848, Patrick Branwell Brontë, known as Branwell to his sisters and father, died of advanced tuberculosis complicated by excess of drug and alcohol abuse.
In his late teens and early twenties, between 1834 and 1840, Branwell was making attempts to become a portrait painter, and two of his oil paintings depicted his sisters, the now-world-renowned Brontë sisters: Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
Charlotte did not like the portraits and never told anyone of their existence, and after her death her husband kept them hidden in a wardrobe for 53 years. However, it is thanks to these pictures that we have any notion of what the sisters look like.
Understanding and coming to know what the Brontë siblings looked like has been an interest of mine for over a year now, and this task is possible for three reasons:
Firstly, the four Brontës were real people who actually existed, and therefore there are a certain (and finite) number of claims we can make about their appearances.
Secondly, there exist many written descriptions from contemporaneous authors, friends, acquaintances and so on, that allow us to draw conclusions.
Thirdly, there exist likenesses of them that we can with some degree presume to be accurate.
Once we make claims about the appearances of the Brontë siblings, we can then move forward when examining speculative likenesses, of which there are a number in existence.
We can also come to create new works of the three girls with some degree of accuracy.
Comments and questions welcome. E x
Christopher Heywood, ‘The Column in Branwell’s “Pillar” Portrait Group’, Brontë Studies, 34.1 (March 2009), 1–19.
Ingeborg Nixon, ‘The Brontë Portraits: Some Old Problems and a New Discovery’, Brontë Society Transactions, 13.3 (January 1958) 230–38.