Discovered by Mistake, a Rare Portrait of the Brontë Sisters Could Sell for $50,000

The only other known group portrait of the famed literary sisters is in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

A watercolor portrait believed to be Edwin Landseer's portrait of the Bronte sisters. Courtesy JP Humbert Auctioneers Limited.
A watercolor portrait believed to be Edwin Landseer's portrait of the Bronte sisters. Courtesy JP Humbert Auctioneers Limited.

Call it a beautiful mistake. A British auction house is selling what it says is a rediscovered portrait of the famous Brontë sisters that a buyer acquired by accident. When the buyer purchased a painting from an auction house, and the work couldn’t be found, he accepted the Brontë portrait instead.

The watercolor is being sold by JP Humbert. Believing more research was in order, auctioneer Jonathan Humbert pulled the painting from a previously planned sale in 2012, according to a BBC report,

Patrick Branwell Brontë, <i>The Brontë Sisters (Anne Brontë; Emily Brontë; Charlotte Brontë)</i><br /> (circa 1834). Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

Patrick Branwell Brontë, The Brontë Sisters (Anne Brontë; Emily Brontë; Charlotte Brontë)
(circa 1834). Courtesy National Portrait Gallery, London.

 

If the painting is of the Brontës, it will be only the second known group portrait of the literary sisters in existence, according to the BBC. The other is in the National Portrait Gallery in London.

According to the Humbert catalogue, the composition and post of the watercolor portrait are typical of the period. Further, there is painted reference to jewelry known to have belonged to the Brontës that is now at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth. The auctioneer says the artist also included two other telling features: a horse-hair sofa with a beaded-curve back (now in the museum), and an unusual tell-tale “dove-colored” tint on the walls.

The auctioneer believes the work is likely by British artist Edwin Landseer given that it bears a faded “EL” monogram “beneath the wash in the nape of the neck of Anne and feint pencil inscription ‘Land*eer’ lower down the painting.”

Lion at the base of Nelson's Column by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) (sculptor), Trafalgar Square, London, UK. Courtesy of Joaquin Martinez via Flickr

Lion at the base of Nelson’s Column by Sir Edwin Landseer (1802-1873) (sculptor), Trafalgar Square, London, UK. Courtesy of Joaquin Martinez via Flickr

Landseer, known to be one of Queen Victoria’s favorite artists, is best known for his animal portraits, and for designing the bronze lions in London’s Trafalgar Square.

According to the artnet Price Database, 700 works by Landseer have come up at auction. Of the highest prices, three works have sold for over $1 million each. The record price is $2 million for the oil painting Scene in Chillingham Park: Portrait of Lord Ossulston, or death of the wild bull, sold at Christie’s London in February 2003 as part of the Forbes collection of Victorian art.

Humbert says it has now established a firm link between the artist and the Brontë family, noting that Landseer frequented Yorkshire. Leading Landseer expert, Richard Ormond has concluded it is “undoubtedly related” to a pastel drawing of the Brontë sisters attributed to Edwin Landseer and dated 1836. An image of the drawing is held on file in the National Portrait Gallery Archive.

Despite its apparently illustrious history, bidding for the Brontë portrait has been muted so far. The work is being offered online as a single offering and bidding ends Sunday (July 16) at 8 p.m. The highest current bid, according to the website, is £9,850 ($12,600) against expectations of £25,000–40,000 ($32,000–50,000).

 


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