Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Tuesday, October 07, 2014 12:30 am by M. in , , ,    10 comments
A couple of years ago, we presented this alleged photograph of the Brontë sisters. The comments of the post follow quite accurately the ongoing research with its owner and many other aficionados trying to confirm the identity of the sitters.  Not an easy task and, for the moment, unsuccessful. Nevertheless there the original website has been revamped and many new and interesting pieces of evidence have been published. Nothing conclusive but everything intriguing:
This is a photograph on glass which can only date from the 1850s and yet has "The Brontë Sisters" written in French on the reverse. The problem with this is that Emily died in 1848 and Anne in 1849, before photos on glass existed.
The researcher has many years experience with glass negatives and believes that this is a copy of an earlier 1840s photo (a daguerreotype).
If it is genuine then one day it will be possible to prove, but there are many obstacles.
As with most photos, there is virtually no provenance and can only be traced back to the previous owners in France. It was one of many items they had purchased over the years, at flea markets and sales. As it wasn't thought to be of any significance, they couldn't remember where it came from.
There is no record of a photo ever being taken of the Brontë Sisters but this may be because most primary sources have been lost and there are no diaries.
Comparing the ladies with portraits of the Brontë Sisters isn't easy because most depict them as teenagers and the photo is of three adults. There are descriptions though.
The Brontë Parsonage Museum viewed it in 2012 and it is hardly surprising that they didn't think it could be a photo of the Brontë Sisters.
Without a scrap of evidence, it was a little difficult to persuade Ann Dinsdale that this was a photograph of the Brontë Sisters which has turned up completely out of the blue in France, after 160 years and with no provenance. The fact that it dated from after the death of the Brontë Sisters didn't help, nor did the theory that it is a copy of a daguerreotype and depicts them with hats of the wrong period.
The National Media Museum couldn't help as there's no way of confirming whether a photograph is an original or a copy. As it is thought that the hats are Belgian(Charlotte & Emily spent time there), and of a style not normally worn in 1840s England, there is little point in asking fashion historians in this country.
More evidence was needed and this website was set up in the hope that people would assist. Fortunately, with the help of people from around the world, progress has been made in the fields of early photography, Brontë studies and European fashion so there is now a better understanding of the photo. It was discovered who could have copied a photo of the Brontë's in the 1850s and that the photo is linked with another photo at the Brontë Parsonage Museum.
We have recently been attempting to trace the original 1840s photographer by looking into the history of early photography in Yorkshire and a possible location has been discovered. If this were confirmed then the image will date from the 1840s as the building only housed a photographer in that decade.
Unfortunately York is where the research is needed and it is too far away; it may be a worthwhile project for someone interested in the Bronte Sisters but success can't be guaranteed.
The research is only being carried out in spare time, a few days each month, so it may be some time before the mystery is solved.
But now we have a competitor. @realbrontes has been tweeting for a few weeks about a picture arguing that it is 'evidently' the Brontë sisters because of the 'striking facial similarities' as compared to the Pillar portrait. Provenance is not important, it seems. What do you think?


  1. Thank you! And compliments about this great blog.

  2. The "competitor", in a lame fashion, is poking fun at the efforts of the serious researcher.

  3. If the location of the first photo is ever proved to be Stonegate, York, then the image will date from the 1840s.

    If the location of the second photo is ever proved to be in the United States I will not be surprised.

  4. Yes. After Brussels, Anne is wearing a 'knock-up' cloak similar in structure to the sumptuous, piled fabric from Belgium. (Looks warm/late summer foilage so 'showing off' luxury souvenirs.) No problem with millinery- Landseer (their hero-mentor I say) describes similar hats on a rack 1836.
    So, if their real, rare photo, why never published?
    Much to Charlotte's surprise and no-doubt heart-breaking disappointment, the new technology probed, and indelibly betrayed her drug--constricted pupils. Am I saying Charlotte was a drug-addict?
    The explanation reminds me of honour knowing Imre Goth as a child, society portraitist who infuriated Guering with his commissioned depiction, ordered Imre's arrest and commanded he amend. The portrait betrayed Guering's morphine addiction. (Imre agreed to 'reconsider', recovered the painting and escaped to England.)
    Charlotte hurt herself, before 1830 when she drew w/colour based on Landseer's 'Hours of Innocence' , posture exposes lower right knee, she graphically depicts damage and ugly brown diagonal scar. It's still there in 1834 'Lycidas' ( a fragile species of butterfly), posture drawn from Landseer's Tutor Fuseli, on cover of 'Art of the Brontes', this intimate disclosure complete with walking-stick exemplifies her preoccupation with the unsightly impairment. She showed Landseer the leg of 'Lycidas' in 1836, and then the scar itself in 1838, when he drew it on verso of their portrait. More unlikely 'studies of a Lady's Calf' by Landseer are going under the hammer on Friday next and may be related.. Her little stick is still at the parsonage.
    When this horrendous injury occurred little Charlotte, in anxiety of adoring father, was relieved with infallible cure-all laudanum. Poor little child could not forget the warm comfort of opium suspended in spirit. The mysterious packages of 1830's, often from 'E', hidden in the parsonage grounds have no better explanation. In the invaluable photo one can see Anne's concerned sympathy for Charlotte. Her consequent addiction may be why the traumatic incident is never disclosed but it influenced, at times pre-occupied the writer's life- first and last sentence in first paragraph in first novel refers to mobility...
    She deserves no blame except for hypocrisy, deception and perhaps self-pity; 'I only experienced opium in my dreams' and who really said that- Charlotte or EG??
    The York photo is among the most informative and accurate references to the sister's we have, and entirely corresponds with Branwell's 'Pillar' group and Landseer's portraits of 1936 (c. whereabouts unknown) and 1838.
    The 'competitor' since proposed obviously of different women is not a photo of our unique and inimitable girls- tho they look like they've pinched the frocks from Lanny's 1838.

    , .

  5. To me the second photo is a 'fraud' if you look at that picture thoroughly you can see that those women are way older than the Brontë's ever became, as there are all three of them ... Emily only became 30 and Anne 29 ...

  6. There seems to be a bit of bias to me here towards the first image being more likely to be genuine. May I ask why? It is suggested towards the second image's owner: Provenance is not important it seems, that they are poking fun at the serious researcher, and their image is a fraud. Again, why?

    I have looked at both owners images and sites objectively and would say that the second image is an exciting discovery and could be the sisters and actually has far more provenance than the first image. As the owner says, the likeness of all three sitters is striking to the sisters in the Pillar portrait. There is also some indication on the photograph that the name Bells (pseudonym used by the sisters) appears on the photographers back sheet and it was taken to show the world that the Bells were actually women. Adding these to descriptions and facts known of the sisters the second image is far more likely to be the sisters than the first image. I have also noticed the dress and necklace worn by Charlotte of the second are almost identical to those seen in cabinets on the parsonage website. That is a lot more evidence/provenance than the first image which in my opinion has only one of slight importance: someone has wrote on the back that it is the Bronte sisters and if I'm not mistaken it was spelt incorrectly. This could have been written by anyone at any time? There seems an awful lot of desperation to find a link for the first image. After years of research I am reading that if a similar wall in York ever existed it may have some importance. Really!

    Does it not strike those all too quick to discredit the second image that the owner thinks they have something that may be of historical importance to Bronte lovers and the arts and is looking share with the world. Yet all they have received in return are negativity and rude comments.

    From what I have seen on their site they have contacted the Bronte Society and received no interest. I find this staggering. If I was a member of the society I would be extremely disappointed that such a possibility had not been taken seriously. Was it discussed, did they gain any advise, eg contact the Museum of Photography, things I would expect to be common sense. It would be interesting to know.

    If they ever visits this site to view the comments, I would advise the owner of the second image to try further for help from proper experts maybe even facial recognition or the like. Who knows, some museums or organisations in different countries may be interested to help and also more deserving to exhibit it. I for one will not be surprised to see their image authenticated one day in the not too distant future.

  7. What do I think? I think that the second photo is not of the three Bronte sisters. The women are dressed in 1860s fashion so would have been dead for many years when the picture was taken. This is what the Victoria and Albert Museum says about women's fashion in the 1860s: "1860s women's dress featured tight bodices with high necks and buttoned fronts. White lace was popular for collars and cuffs, as were low sloping shoulders that flared out into wide sleeves. The skirt continued to be full and bell-shaped until around 1865. Hair was worn with central parting tied into low chignons at the nape of the neck, with loops or ringlets covering the ears."

    Ann Little

  8. The problem I have with the first picture is Charlotte's person. She was known to be a very tiny woman, less than 5 feet, or no more than. That woman does not look like she is under 5 feet, nor does she look like a petite figure. If anything, the girl on the far right looks more fitting to be Charlotte...


    The person who commented on 1/19/2015 has me convinced that image might be authentic. In fact, the girl in the middle is very small, possibly more fitting to Charlotte's size.

    And...to the person who thinks these women look too old, they actually don't look that old at all. Keep in mind, many men and women in those days appeared much older than they really were. People didn't age back then like we do now.

    If I had to guess, the second image is authentic.

  9. The hairstyles in the second image are 1860s or later. Almost certainly a no.

  10. Take a step back and try not to analyze the finer details regarding this second find. What do we see? An image taken around about the right time. We see three ladies, two of which, some are saying have a resemblance to the sisters. But none of you have made the striking link between the brothers portrait and this one. The books. It is a clear indication to me that they wanted to put across their hobby/profession, point made. Of course, the pious of the time probably often got pictures taken holding their bibles etc, but this is not a bible. It could be, I'd admit, a book with a torn spine. But books were precious then, people looked after them. She has a full knuckle, in an odd pose, between them. So I have to see this as two thin books, no doubt novels. Some of the novels, and poetry books had white fronts, and one of the classics was published in two volumes, one of which was thinner.
    Why do we assume it's the three sisters? After all some say only two look like them. So... My 2 pennies worth on this is, After Emily died, Charlotte and Anne traveled to Scarborough with none other than Nussey. Now, Scarborough was full of studios, and I'm guessing they had a day out, and may have just popped by a photographers. The lady on the latest find looks quite a lot like Nussey. So two sisters and Nussey maybe. As for the the wording "Bell" Coincidence or a local photographer? Any Bell's in places they frequented?
    Another idea, when the photo was copied, and copied because it obviously was of some importance to the person who took it, may have discussed this with those copying it and let them into the secret of who the sitters were. So they may have scribbled the words on there, so that one day, the truth might be known. Bit of a weak hypothesis, but it's good to explore all options.