Friday, August 18, 2006

At the National Portrait Gallery

BrontëBlog was recently in London and wallowed in some Brontë goodness. Out of the regular schedule was seeing Polly Teale's Jane Eyre on stage at Trafalgar Studio 1. We enjoyed it immensely and can't hide our deep admiration for Monica Dolan's outstanding interpretation of Jane Eyre.

The regular sites included the compulsory visit to the British Library to see the manuscript of Jane Eyre, a stroll around the much-changed Paternoster Row area in Saint Paul's cathedral shadow, a walk up and down Cornhill where Smith, Elder & Co used to have their premises at the time Charlotte went there and, most definitely, a trip to the National Portrait Gallery.

On public display are both Branwell's portraits: the Pillar Portrait and Emily's Portrait from the Gun Portrait. And so there we stood in awe for a while until it was time to go and meet Juliet - the Collection Assistant - for a very special appointment.

Charlotte Brontë's famous portrait by Richmond - the one which made her cry because it reminded her so of her sister Anne, the one Patrick found so true to life, the one Mary Taylor didn't find true to life at all - is too delicate and frail to be on display and it's kept very carefully in a well-equiped storage room.

Juliet kindly provided us with a few sheets full of information on the portrait before she took out the portrait out for us to see. We are perfectly aware that it is a beautified portrait but we also felt that this was as closely as it got to looking Charlotte Brontë in the face. It might sound a tad too sentimental but there are simply no words to describe that moment. Charlotte's much-commended eyes seemed so full of life now we looked at the portrait face to face and not on a computer screen or a catalogue or a poster. The whole portrait suddenly took on a whole new dimension.

After a few quiet moments, Juliet enlightened us on what we knew virtually nothing about: the afterlife of bthe portrait, its complicated restorations, etc. Everything she said was really interesting but one of the things that surprised us most was when she explained how the paper was originially pure white and the yellow backgroud we see nowadays is nothing but age showing. Thus, the white touches on the forehead, neck and collar weren't nearly as visible as they are today.

When we left, Juliet said goodbye to the happiest of Brontëites.

A big thank-you to Juliet for her time and kindness and to Tim, the Collections Manager who organised our visit but couldn't finally be there.

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