Did the Real Charlotte Bronte Just Stand Up? The Debate

Quite a while ago I wrote a post about the portraits of Charlotte Bronte, speculating on how she may have looked.  The discussion was furthered by Mr James Grozny, owner of a mysterious painting he aquired at auction.  He speculated that his painting (which can be seen below) was by the artist Edwin Landseer and features the sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte.  The research has been a slow, painstaking –  yet fascinating process and Mr Grozny believes he has nearly solved the mystery.  All can be explained in the comments and corrospondence over at Echostains (sister site).  Anticipating that a debate is ahead, I have decided to dedicate a page to this interesting subject and wish for all further comments to be posted here.  It’s a shame I can’t repost the comments here, but here are the last two to whet your appetite!  To keep up with the story from the beginning – please read the comments over on Echostains  from the original post;-

 Did the Real Charlotte Bronte Just Stand up?

The Bronte sisters by Branwell  
The Bronte sisters by Branwell Bronte

This is a follow up to my post called ‘Will the Real Charlotte Bronte Please Stand up? ‘ This was written a while ago.  I tried to establish what Charlotte Bronte really looked like (and didn’t get anywhere lol!)  This subject still fascinates me though, so I was intrigued to read recently that James Gorin Von Grosny from Devon had bought a painting whom he believes are the Bronte sisters, painted by Edwin Lanseer.  The connection with Lanseer and the Bronte’s comes about through Ellen Nussey’s brother being a friend of his.

could this be a fresh portrait of the Bronte sisters? could this be a fresh portrait of the Bronte sisters?
Now, before you dismiss this claim as outlandish and unlikely, Mr Von Grosny puts up a formidable arguement  defending his claim and a lively debate is going  on the Bronte blog HERE.  It makes fascinating reading and  Mr Von Grosny addresses many issues regarding the work.  It is obvious that he has done a lot of research into the Bronte’s and has a genuine interest in them.
closer up
closer up

 Even the way that the owner aquired this portrait is unusual in itself (read it HERE).  The whole story is intriguing and I am keeping a very open mind.  After all, we have so many portraits, each differing of Charlotte: so many conflicting descriptions of her appearence.  For example, even the samples of her hair differ.  I was at the Bronte Parsonage yesterday and saw three different examples, purported to be Charlottes hair.  There was a necklace made of fair hair, a mourning card with red blonde hair and a very dark lock of hair which is confusing. So why SHOULDN’T this portrait be of the Bronte’s? We don’t know for a fact it isn’t so far.

the knee sketch
the knee sketch 

The reverse of the painting contains a sketch of a knee.  Mr Von Grosny asserts that this ties in with a painting that Charlotte did of a shepherdess with the same scar below the knee.  It is thought to be a self portrait.  There is so much to the story of this painting – the suspense is killing me lol!  But just because I WANT it to be the Bronte’s, won’t make it so, but evidence will.  I can assure you that Mr Von Grosny is busy collecting it!  This portrait has a tale to tell I feel, and I want to hear it!

Constructive comments are invited

18 thoughts on “Did the Real Charlotte Bronte Just Stand Up? The Debate

  1. This post has been transferred from Echostains

    Submitted on 2011/03/14 at 1:39 am | In reply to James (Gorin von Grozny).
    I do not know why, I always have the weird intuition – despite the date on the portrait – that the portrait was taken at the same time JB Leyland has made ​​the medallion for Branwell in 1845, after the journey of the three sisters in Brussels and After the death of Elizabeth Branwell. I tell myself that the little legacy Aunt Branwell had allowed the three sisters to order a portrait of themselves (with their beautiful new dresses of half-mourning) while Branwell, who had not received any inheritance, should just write a poem to Leyland in exchange for his medallion. I was wondering that artist with the initials EL could be among the Leyland’s relations … And that Landseer! But was he not already suffering from depression since the late 1830s?

  2. This post has been transferred from Echostains. To read the rest of these posts – so far please look at the comments.

    Submitted on 2011/03/14 at 1:53 pm
    Hi Louise,
    I’m afraid, intriguing as it is, there is no room or need for speculation about who made the picture or when, although your ideas are fascinating- no less so than the truth.
    The intials ‘E.L.’ became unique to Landseer, his monogram since 1810. No educated artist would borrow or assume, no more than an unknown artist could have produced this impossibly fine, clever work. Moreover, the portrait is signed ‘Lan**er – 1838′ and is attributed to Edwin Landseer by National Portrait Gallery.
    I don’t see where you get the notion of ‘new half-mourning’ dresses- they are just cotton house-frocks, probably made by Charlotte, although they were all productive seamstress.
    The new mystery is: did Branwell, through his ‘best friend’, somehow facilitate Landseer’s visit to the parsonage? Do you know if, as I’ve read mention, J.B. Leyland ever lived in Haworth?
    You might be interested to know, I’ve just been looking at a spectacular ‘new’ portrait by Branwell, ‘John Almighty’, lay preacher and landlord of the Star Inn, Sowerby, made 1840-41 while Branwell worked at Sowerby Bridge. It was on a re-run of Antiques R/Show, I’m waiting for owner’s permission to send you images.
    Landseer did suffer ‘wilds of mind’, after making this picture. This ‘taboo’ stigma curtailed their friendship (and was censored from history by a jealous husband and a ‘best friend’) and is why the picture was never delivered. Scholars and biographers point to Duchess Bedford’s refusal of marriage and the death of his mum as the cause of Landseer’s breakdown,- hardly- his propsal was as much a ‘gesture’ as ambition, and everybody’s mum dies. The cause of Edwin’s ilness was much more likely the effect of corruptive, ‘creative’ *advice from his mentor Jacob BELL. I have the pivotal picture, his comical observation of 2 dogs ‘Devotion & Irritation’ which *consequently became ‘Dignity & Impudence’ and graphically illustrates Landseer’s gentle compliance, genius and probable torment.
    How are you getting on with ‘Charlotte’s’ new face? I have mentioned to BPM that the ‘only photo’ is no way Charlotte, and dimensionally fits Ellen Nussey, but had no reply yet. They have re-published the pastel of Elizabeth Gaskill, still described as Charlotte though, not sure why.
    Very best wishes, James

    1. Hi again James,hope your well
      I was hoping to finish my blog post for you to see but our camera died so its still in my drafts folder,, re the photo you mention I know it does look vaguely ellen nussey like but the Ellen Nussey photos are her as an old lady ,when she was young most people agree she was very pretty , personaly think the photo is Charlotte partly because its on sale at the Parsonage and they are pretty strict in their vetting process but mostly because I did a couple of photographic experments on myself and a pretty young friend ,,the view that the Charlotte photo is taken from and the sepia tints make us both look different and pretty vile! I wanted to post them before now but I have been waiting to finish a dress like the photo one to recreate the photo more completly,

    1. Mmm, don’t know about that Wordywoman, this post has had a lot more views than it did ever did over on Echostains – but yours is the first comment on bookstains. And I thought I was doing it a favour 🙂 transferring it to here (best of both worlds – art on echostains and debate on bookstains)

  3. Dear Echostains,
    Dear Echostains,

    Fascinating that in first post you refer to JB Leyland- Branwell’s ‘best friend’. I meant to mention a compelling coincidence before now- tho you may know, that Leyland and Landseer (maker of subject portrait) studied in London together under Heydon- they were life-long friends, Landseer visited him at his Bradford studio- and possibly in Haworth way before 1838. More research needed yet tho. It is looking more like the portrait was given by the artist to Rachel Russell (and sisters) after the subjects gained posthumous fame- and ‘escaped’ among the unlisted bundles of pictures and manuscripts disposed of at the ‘Woburn Sale’ 2005.
    Happy new year and v.best wishes, James

  4. Hiyo Echostains.

    Time to put the picture to test and see what the ‘market’ makes of it, going to auction at J Humberts later this month.

    The ‘problem’ institution (asp BPM) have with the portrait is that Landseer’s ‘Charlotte’ is no way compatible with the robust mid-40’s woman in the ‘official’ photo (too old and stout to ever have been Charlotte) or the ‘lightweight’ character in the ‘Bonnet’ pastel, the former is Ellen (forensically irrefutable), the latter all day Elizabeth Gaskill- yours the first ‘nose’ to observe. The artist’s reputation and faithful depiction even of Emily’s unfortunate teeth and Charlotte’s twisted mouth, the subtle detail; ‘walls not papered, but stained in a pretty dove-coloured tint’ (EN) suggests the artist would have replicated the girls hair colour, and all their distinguishing features and foibles, to the absolute of his ability.

    The biggest surprise institution and convention need to “get their head ’round”, and for me the most exciting issue, is that if not for Charlotte’s ‘artistic intuition’ (Bolton Abbey) and the influence of Landseer, the sisters may have continued with indecision and lack of options- never aspired to print (which Lanny understood- women could by books), or dared publish a book.

    I recently saw something at the NPG which suggests not only Lanny was a frequent visitor to the parsonage from c. 1836, Emily had a secret infatuation with him, and must have been broken-hearted when Charlotte stole the lime-light. In her ’37 poem ‘To my Guitar’ she describes the scene and dialogue of a pastel drawing (of 3 ‘bohemians’ with guitar) by Landseer from (according to implied ages and Anne’s hair-length) about 1836 or ’37. She did have a teen-age ‘crush’, if not romantic infatuation, until Charlotte made her move and ‘stole’ it.
    I’ll bring you up to date with the latest PR copy as it unfolds.

    Best wishes, James

    1. Aw sorry you’re going to auction the painting James, but this could prove very interesting in regards to what the ‘experts’ say and how they describe the painting. Are you going to put a reserve on it? Please keep us informed as to what transpires at the auction! This painting has provoked such controversy and arguement – I predict there shall be a LOT of interest in it!

  5. Hi Echostains, there’s a nice article in the telegraph today- should appear if you google; ‘jphumbertsauctioneers-landseer’. They look great don’t they? Let’s hope they find a home nearby.
    Have you heard that Charlotte’s (widely publicised) achievement alongside Linnel and Turner at the Royal Northern Arts Exhibition, Leeds, 1834 is now to be included in Juliet Barker’s revised biography? Not sure if she’ll mention how Charlotte entrapped her hero Landseer at the event… Best wishes, James

      1. Hey ho Echostains-

        Very exciting development- a collector has come forward with info about a possibly related pastel group, made about 1-2 years earlier- sale has been withdrawn pending investigation- could prove beyond reasonable doubt long-standing relationship between artist and subjects.

        Alaso found a drawing of William John Cavendish, the ‘Bachelor Duke’, attributed to Branwell. It’s an intimate, graceful, comical caption- Branwell never met the Duke did he? If the drawing were by Branwell, surely it would be something proudly remembered. One must ask; what is a sketch of Landseer’s close and infamous friend, intimately drawn apparantly in the artist’s hand, doing in the parsonage? There are one or two more dubious attributions in Jane Sellers/Alexander ‘Art of the Brontes’ which seem to be associated by style or subject with the artist, among them (it was kindly pointed out to me by Liz Rye) is Branwell’s ‘The Lonely Shepherd’ oil on board, the source of maker’s reference (to Landseer’s original work in colour) not given, it is suggested copied from a b/w etching, the painting has no companions in Branwell’s oeuvre. Still more to do, but all moving in right direction.
        Best wishes, James

        1. Wow! this is quite exciting James! I’d love to see this ‘Bachelor Duke’ which is attributed to Branwell. I doubt he met one but he invented Northangerland/Percy and named his soldier after one. The pastel group could provide a lot of answers regarding the relationship between sitters and artists once and for all. Please keep us informed about how the investigation goes and what it throws up:-) Fingers crossed for interesting results!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: