"Little gem" portrait of Charlotte Brontë buddy Mrs Hudson back at Parsonage Museum

By Ceirney Eddie | 05 November 2013

A rare portrait made by Charlotte Brontë of one of her friends has returned to Yorkshire for the first time in more than 170 years after being bought by the Brontë Society in an auction at Christie’s.

A photo of a miniature painting of a 19th century woman in white and blue headdress
© Christie's
The portrait miniature, of Mrs Hudson, of Eastern Farm, Bridlington, is a painting of a chum referred to by Charlotte in a letter to her friend, Ellen Nussey.

Charlotte visited the Hudsons several times; her second visit, in 1849, was a much more sombre event, occurring shortly after the funeral of Charlotte’s sister, Anne, at Scarborough.

The portrait was created in around 1839, when the two sisters had stayed with Mrs Hudson and her husband John.

“It is one of her last such miniatures painted during a happy month spent with friends; the Hudsons at Easton House," said Professor Ann Sumner, the Executive Director of the Brontë Society.

“In this charming work she captures her friend in profile”.

Sally McDonald, the Chairman of the Society, said enthusiasts were "delighted" to be bringing the "little gem" back to the Parsonage.

"We would like to thank all those whose generosity has made the return of the miniature possible," she added.

Charlotte gave the portrait to Hudson, remaining in the family until it was passed on to her niece, Fanny Whip, who then left it to her son.

The portrait went missing for more than 100 years from 1895, but reappeared at a sale at Neales in Nottingham in 2001, where it was acquired by the late Mrs TS Eliot, a major collector of miniatures.

It will go on public display at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth – the home of the Brontë family which is run by the Society.

Founded in 1893, the charity is one of the oldest literary societies in the world, with a thriving worldwide membership. It relies on its members to donate generously.

Jo Langston, the head of Portrait Miniatures at Christie’s London, said: “The present miniature is a rare example of portraiture in Charlotte Brontë’s artistic oeuvre.

“Engravings and Romantic landscapes, such as those included in the works of Lord Byron, were favourites of Charlotte”.

Charlotte had formative designs on pursuing miniature painting professionally, but was at her most talented when copying and imitating landscapes, having originally been taught to draw, alongside her siblings, through copying.

Two copies of her engravings appeared at an exhibition in Leeds in 1834, although her acknowledgement of a lack of painterly imagination and originality is said to have persuaded her to focus on writing, despite her excellent eye for detail and love of engravings and Romantic landscapes.

The portrait will be shown next year in a new display, The Brontës and the Railways. Charlotte made her first train journey, from Leeds to Selby, as part of a visit to the Hudsons in 1839.
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