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A sketch of a woman’s head by Charlotte Brontë, previously thought to be of another pupil drawn while the author was at boarding school in Brussels, has been identified as a self-portrait.EDIT: Also in The Daily Mail.
The literary biographer Claire Harman said the drawing, which she suggests shows Brontë looking into a mirror, preceded the novel Jane Eyre, in which the protagonist also draws herself in a similar fashion.
The sketch dates from 1843, four years before Brontë published Jane Eyre, one of English literature’s great masterpieces, and when the young writer was suffering the agonies and insecurities of unrequited love.
So much of the novel was “autobiographical with fictionalisation”, Harman said. “There’s a passage when Jane [tries] to convince herself that she must ... not be deluded into thinking Mr Rochester liked her more than an employer would ... because she does not deserve his attention. She’s too poor, plain and disconnected. So she sits down and draws her self-portrait. She gets a mirror and makes her own portrait in
order to convince herself of her own unattractiveness.” (...)
The drawing was known to be by Brontë, not least because it was sketched on her school atlas. But it has remained unpublished until now, recorded without an image in the 1995 scholarly volume The Art of the Brontës as “possibly a sketch of a fellow pupil in Brussels”. It is owned by the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.
Harman, who taught English at the universities of Manchester and Oxford, has included her discovery in her book, Charlotte Brontë: A Life, published this week. Brontë had adept draughtsmanship skills. At one time, she wanted to be an artist and was drawing and painting for up to nine hours a day. (...)
Despite the sketch’s small size – barely 1.5 inches high – its facial details resemble those in an 1850 image by George Richmond, now in the National Portrait Gallery, although the artist was known to flatter his sitters.
One other contemporary likeness was part of a group portrait painted by Charlotte’s brother Branwell. Ann Dinsdale, collections manager of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, said any insight into how Charlotte saw herself is interesting. Although it is hard to prove conclusively, she added: “It does look very similar to the sitter in the Richmond portrait.”