National Gallery to reveal secret of shadowy figure in Bronte portrait

The shadowy figure emerging between Bronte sisters has attracted plenty of intrigue over the years, but now the National Portrait Gallery is set to reveal the story behind Branwell Bronte’s self-portrait.
After using the latest scientific techniques, experts have found how Branwell had begun sketching himself only to change his mind almost immediately.
The move has helped to give analysts the most accurate image of what his picture would have looked like ahead of painting a pillar over his own face, which took him out of the portrait.
It also gives an insight into the man himself, who initially harboured hopes of becoming a professional artist and is well-known to those that have studied the Bronte family.

Two centuries of history

The painting is now the centrepiece of a new exhibition to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Jane Eyre author’s birth and has enjoyed a fascinating history.
After initially disappearing, the portrait was found loosely folded on top of a cupboard in 1906 by the second wife of Charlotte’s husband Reverend A.B. Nicholls, before it was eventually scooped up by the National Portrait Gallery in 1914.
The years have predictably caused the work to fade, with the passing time slowly unveiling what appears to be a shadowy male figure in the middle of the gathered sisters. That figure is now thought to be Branwell.
The decision to replace Branwell with a pillar is thought to have been an artistic one, rather than being retrospectively covered up at a later date.
That is an opinion shared by Lucy Wood, assistant curator of the exhibition, who told the Daily Telegraph: “It appears that he was only ever loosely sketched and never fully painted up.
“The pillar was added in at an early stage, so it appears he painted himself over.”
She said the latest exhibition was an ideal opportunity to appreciate the legacy of the Bronte family.
“This rare chance to see the only painted portrait of Charlotte Bronte alongside illuminating personal treasures from the Bronte Parsonage Museum provides a fascinating opportunity to celebrate her life and remarkable achievements as one of the most celebrated authors of the 19th century,” she added.

Overall collection set to dazzle

The latest painting will go on display alongside a number of a items loaned from the Bronte Parsonage Museum, home of Charlotte and her siblings.
The collection includes paintings and drawings by Charlotte, as well as letters and journals.
A number of personal items are also set to be displayed, including a pair of cloth ankle boots worn by Charlotte, as well as first editions of Jane Eyre.