Portraits of Emily Jane Brontë
There are only two known genuine portraits of Emily, both painted by her brother Branwell. But there are many images floating around the Internet that are claimed to be of her. On this page, I have tried to collect all of these images so you can know which are the real thing.
A. The ‘Gun Group’ (1833/4)
The painting known as the 'Gun Group' was produced by Branwell around 1833/4. Soon after 1861 – once Patrick, the last of the Brontë family, had died – Charlotte's widow, Arthur Bell Nicholls, destroyed the painting as he believed the likenesses were so poor. However, the image of Emily was presumably more accurate as he retained this which is now known as the Profile Portrait (B below). He took it back to Ireland with the Pillar Portrait (C) before being discovered in 1914 after he died.
On the left is a tracing of Emily from the Gun Group produced by the Haworth stationer, John Greenwood before it was destroyed.
For many years, only the tracings and an 1879 engraving of the original painting remained but, in 1989, a photograph was found of the painting, copied about 1879 from a daguerrotype of 1858-61.
B. The Profile Portrait (1833/4)
This is actually part of the Gun Group painting (see above) but can conveniently be considered separately since the rest of the original was destroyed. Emily would have been about 15 or 16 at the time.
It is now on show in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
On the right above is a 1999 restoration by Michael Armitage.
C. The ‘Pillar’ Portrait (1835)
The painting known as the Pillar Portrait was painted by Branwell in 1835, a year or two after the Gun Group/Profile painting. It is so named because of the 'pillar' in the background which is where Branwell's figure originally stood and which is gradully reappearing with time. The order of the figures then is Anne, Emily, (Branwell) and Charlotte.
It is now on show in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
The right-hand picture above is a 1999 restoration by Michael Armitage.
The Landseer ‘Sisters’ (1838)
Close-up of 'Emily' figure
This painting came to light in 2011 and is claimed to be a painting of the sisters produced in 1838 by Edwin Landseer. However, the sisters were unknown outside Haworth at that time so it is unlikely that a top artist would have painted them. They also bear little resemblance to the known portraits of the sisters.
John Hunter Thompson (1840)
Another painting which appeared in 2011 and claimed to be of Emily. It is believed to be painted by John Hunter Thompson of Bradford around 1840. As can be seen, it is very similar to the picture from 'The Woman at Home' (below) magazine in 1894 which was reported to be from a 'book of beauty'. Written on the back of the painting is 'Emily Bronte – Sister of Charlotte B… Currer Bell', and on the backing paper 'Emily Bronte/Sister of Charlotte Bronte/Ellis Bell'.
The Brontë Society does not believe that it is of Emily.
Another claimed portrait of Emily that appeared in January 2012. This was put up for auction by J M Humbert auctioneers and sourced to the mid-19th century. Again, the Brontë Society is doubtful.
The Brontë Photograph No. 1
Close-up of the 'Emily' figure
An unusual claimed portrait that has emerged in February 2012 in that it is a photograph. If true, it would be the only accurate images of Emily and Anne. No 'official' opinions have yet emerged.
The Brontë Photograph No. 2
Another photograph claiming to be the Brontës that appeared in 2015. It shows three Victorian sisters (or a mother and her daughters) but the resemblance to the sisters of the Branwell pictures is debatable. The figure on the right is supposed to be Emily.
‘The Woman at Home’ (1894)
This drawing was featured in the 1894 edition of The Woman at Home magazine and was claimed to be a portrait of Emily drawn by Charlotte. However, Clement K. Shorter in his book Charlotte Brontë and Her Circle (1896), commented on it:
There are three or four so-called portraits of Emily in existence, but they are all repudiated by Mr. Nicholls as absolutely unlike her. The supposed portrait which appeared in The Woman at Home for July 1894 is now known to have been merely an illustration from a 'Book of Beauty', and entirely spurious.
‘Thornton and the Brontës’ (1898)
The cover of the 1898 book Thornton and the Brontës featured a portrait claimed to be of Emily. The author, William Scruton wrote:
The portrait of Emily Brontë was carefully and accurately copied by Miss Preston from a picture which came to me from Haworth with good credentials as to authenticity. The original was submitted to the inspection of Martha Brown, the Brontë housekeeper, and admitted by her to be a tolerably faithful portrait. The picture formerly belonged to a member of the Brown family, of Haworth, who always regarded it as a good likeness. On the strength of this evidence, and nothwithstanding Mr. Shorter's opinion that the quest for an authentic portrait of Emily Brontë now seems hopeless, I have felt justified in giving the portrait a prominent place in my book.
Readers of Miss Robinson's Emily Brontë will doubtless remember that lady's word-picture of the authoress of Wuthering Heights, – "A quality of dark-brown hair, deep, beautiful hazel eyes that could flash with passion, features somewhat strong and stern, the mouth prominent and resolute." Martha Brown, who was thrown much in contact with Emily, said, "We always thought he to be the best looking, the cleverest, and the bravest-spirited of the three sisters".
The Getty Portrait
Another image found floating around the Internet with a close resemblance to the Emily of the Branwell paintings is this one. It is part of the Hulton Library/Getty Images collection and is claimed to be Emily Brontë. However, the origin of the picture is unknown and there is no basis for being a genuine representation.
One rumour was that it was a portrait of George Henry Lewes, a writer and critic who corresponded with Charlotte. The portrait right is of a young G H Lewes and is held in the National Portrait Gallery in London.
According to Charlotte, Lewes had many similarities to Emily. In a letter to Ellen Nussey (June 1850), Charlotte wrote of Lewes:
I have seen Lewes too—he is a man with both weaknesses and sins; but unless I err greatly the foundation of his nature is not bad—and were he almost a fiend in character—I could not feel otherwise to him than half sadly half tenderly—a queer word the last—but I use it because the aspect of Lewes's face almost moves me to tears—it is so wonderfully like Emily—her eyes, her features—the very nose, the somewhat prominent mouth, the forehead—even at moments the expression: whatever Lewes does or says I believe I cannot hate him.
The Charlotte Portrait
This chalk portrait of Charlotte was created by George Richmond in 1850. Although there is not the slightest doubt that it is of Charlotte, you can still find the image being used for Emily on the Internet. It is on show in the National Portrait Gallery.
TV and Movie Portrayals