Charlotte Brontë’s drawing of an ‘English Lady’ is a fine example of her detailed but delicate pencil work. It is a copy – a remarkably good one – of W H Finden’s engraving of the portrait of Lady Jersey which first appeared in Moore’s Life of Byron in 1830. The Brontës were well acquainted with Byronic literature and probably owned their own copy of the Life; they certainly copied many of Finden’s illustrations to books by and about Byron. With a meticulous eye for detail, Charlotte has faithfully reproduced the effect of the engraving process by carefully judged layers of pencil shading. Mrs Gaskell describes how Charlotte could spend literally months achieving just this effect:
When she was sixteen or seventeen, she wanted much to draw; and she copied nimini-pimini copper-plate engravings out of annuals (‘stippling’ don’t the artists call it?), every little point put in, till at the end of six months she had produced an exquisitely faithful copy of the engraving. [SHB, L & L, iv, 87]
This drawing is signed ‘C. Brontë’ and dated 15 October 1834; unusually, it is also titled, ‘English Lady’. All the writing is in longhand which indicates that the drawing was intended for others to see – possibly it was done as a study for William Robinson who was giving drawing lessons to Branwell at this time. In view of Charlotte’s painstaking attempt at accuracy, it is interesting that she has deliberately changed minor details, such as the jewellery, presumably so that the finished drawing could be used as a portrait of an Angrian heroine.
Credit: Juliet R V Barker, Sixty Treasures (Keighley: Brontë Society, 1988)
This item is owned by The Bronte Parsonage Museum.