Brontë museum given portrait of patriarch
'Independent' reader saves long-lost picture for Britain
Saturday 27 June 2009
A portrait of Patrick Brontë, whose daughters Emily, Charlotte and Anne wrote some of the most celebrated novels in the English literary canon, is to be returned to its rightful place in the family's former home after going missing for more than a century.
Four weeks ago, The Independent reported that the rare picture, which had not been seen since being sold by the Museum of Brontë Relics in 1898, was discovered in a cardboard box at a Midlands antique fair, in its original gilt frame.
On Wednesday, it was sold by an auction house in Surrey for £1,476 – more than double its estimated value. The buyer, who called in her bids by phone and saw off competition from a London antique dealer, is from the south of England, and she had read about the portrait in The Independent.
She has decided to donate it to the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, west Yorkshire, after reading that its directors could not afford to bid themselves. The woman, an office worker in her early 60s, wished to remain anonymous, but in an email to this newspaper she explained her motivations for buying the portrait.
"My husband saw the article in The Independent initially and, knowing my interest in the Brontës, drew it to my attention," she wrote. "Having read the article, which I found very interesting, the photograph seemed to say 'buy me', and I just thought it would be nice to own a piece of Brontë memorabilia – if I could afford it.
"I am a Brontë fan, particularly of Charlotte, but I'm not manic about it. I then checked [the auction house] website and the more I thought about it, the more it seemed wrong for the photograph to be in private hands, it should be back at the Parsonage where it belonged, so I decided that if I were successful, I would donate it to the museum.
"I must say that I was pushed to my financial limit to get the photograph, but the surprise and delight of the lady to whom I spoke at the museum was well worth it."
The woman added that she hoped to return the portrait to the museum in a few weeks. Andrew McCarthy, the museum's director, said he was "absolutely delighted" to hear it would soon be hanging in its rightful place in the Parsonage.
"We do get a lot of support from people in a lot of different ways, but usually it's from members of the Brontë Society who we know care about the family's heritage," he said. "When this kind of thing happens it's particularly gratifying, because it's an act of kindness from someone who just read about this picture and realised they could do something to help us, and she's really made a big difference."
Elizabeth Gaskell, in her 1857 biography of Charlotte Brontë, described the Rev Brontë as a "strange" and"half-mad" man who was "not naturally fond of children". In the portrait he is gazing into the distance with haughty austerity.
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