AN auctioneer is aiming to secure a rare hat-trick by selling an “important” picture thought to depict all three Bronte sisters.
Jonathon Humbert, of JP Humbert Auctioneers, based in Towcester, says he is confident the painting, which he claims is of “superlative quality”, is of the three literary sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne.
The rare portrait, thought to be a hitherto unknown watercolour, is the latest in the series of unrelated items concerning the trio to be put up for sale by the same firm.
The Northamptonshire auction house’s sale of a small portrait believed to be of Emily Bronte recently fetched £4,600. In December, JP Humbert sold another painting of the reclusive writer for £23,836.
However, Mr Humbert said the latest painting could prove to be the most important yet.
He said there was no estimate on the latest discovery, which it believed to have come from an owner in Dorset, as it was impossible to say how much it would fetch.
He added: “We just had one and then with all the media interest someone came into us with the second and now we have a third one, which is by far the most important painting.
“The evidence has been put together by the vendor for the past four years and our own investigations.
“We have been incredibly forensic about this and we believe that not only is this a hitherto unrecognised portrait of the Bronte sisters, but moreover we believe it was painted by Edwin Landseer, who went on top become Sir Edwin Landseer.”
The piece of art is thought to contain the signature of Landseer, who was an important Victorian painter, and depicts a broach [sic] and bracelet believed to have been worn by the sisters.
The jewellery is now kept in museums.
Mr Humbert added: “It has come to us from a long way away and we are already having a lot of international press interest and what we hope is the art world will embrace it accordingly.
“We have had success from two out of two and we are hoping for the hat-trick but we have no idea what it will make because there is nothing to compare it to.”
He added: “I hope it will end up in a museum or collection, where it will be recognised for what it is.”
The painting is set to go under the hammer on April 26 as part of a two-day fine art and antiques sale.
‘We don’t think it’s a painting of Emily’
The Bronte Society has cast doubt on claims a painting being auctioned in Northampton this month [December 2011] is a portrait of the famous literary figure Emily Bronte.
Ann Dinsdale, collections manager at the Bronte Parsonage Museum, said the society doubted the provenance of the oil painting and would not be bidding on it next Thursday.
“We are not 100 per cent convinced it is Emily. There isn’t enough provenance on the painting and there is an element of doubt about it,” she said.
“There are two portraits of Emily, both in the National Portrait Gallery, and they don’t bare a striking resemblance to this one. The experts are saying the woman in the painting is wearing the kind of clothes Emily would have worn, which probably thousands of other women of that period were wearing. They have done a huge amount of research on that painting but we are still not convinced.”
But art experts, who have assessed the picture, say there is strong evidence to suggest it could be of Emily Bronte.
The oil painting, which shows a young woman wearing a straw bonnet held in place by a silk scarf, was painted earlier than previously thought.
The picture, recently given to auctioneers J P Humbert of Northamptonshire by a retired headmaster, was found to have been painted circa 1840, making it contemporary with the age of the possible subject – Emily Bronte died in 1848.
It is almost identical to a print of a portrait of the writer published in the July 1894 issue of The Woman At Home, which itself was attributed to Charlotte Bronte. It is thought the artist responsible for the newly-found picture may be John Hunter Thompson (1808-1890) of Bradford who was a portrait artist and friend of Emily’s brother Branwell.
As well as that, written on the back is “Emily Bronte – Sister of Charlotte B… Currer Bell”, and on the backing paper “Emily Bronte/Sister of Charlotte Bronte/Ellis Bell”. Currer and Ellis Bell were the pen names of Charlotte and Emily Bronte from the winter of 1845 when the sisters published their poems and adopted pen names.
Auctioneer Jonathan Humbert said the attribution confirms that the portrait is earlier than previously thought.
“After much research, we are confident this portrait, recently discovered, is of Emily Bronte,” he said.
“So many factors support this contention and, as such, this represents a very important study of one of English literature’s most perennial figures.”
The oil on panel painting is set to go on sale at JP Humbert Auctioneers in Towcester, Northants, at a provisional estimate of £10,000 to £15,000.
The sale coincides with an auction where the society will be bidding for a rare Charlotte Bronte manuscript the Young Men’s Magazine.
Emily Brontë portrait goes under the hammer
For the second time in two months, a previously unknown portrait captioned “Emily Brontë” is to be auctioned, showing the Wuthering Heights author as a winsome but pensive young woman.
Painted in oils and with the subject gazing directly at the artist with clear brown eyes, the picture is less formal and possibly more flattering than the smaller, bonneted study that sold in December for £23,836, exceeding the reserve price of £10,000-£15,000.
Measuring 33 by 24cms (13 by 9.5ins), the painting has been reliably sourced to the mid-19th century and has a note of the subject probably made by the artist around the time of painting. But absolute attribution is unlikely, as has been the case with most supposed Brontë portraits apart from the famous study of the sisters painted in 1835 by their brother, Branwell.
The painting has been sent for auction by the Northamptonshire firm JP Humbert, which handled the “bonnet picture” sale. Jonathan Humbert said a private owner brought the portrait into the firm’s office after reading about the previous sale. “One unknown portrait of Emily Brontë is lucky enough, but two in two months is quite remarkable,” he said. “I am amazed that both have turned up on our doorstep.”
Anything with a Brontë tag appears to sell well, although uncertainty about the authenticity of the latest picture has seen the reserve set at between £3,000 and £4,000. Last month the Haworth Parsonage museum, which has the world’s greatest trove of Brontë relics, was outbid by a Paris museum for a miniature magazine made by Charlotte Brontë when she was 14.
The dainty handwritten manuscript was bought at Sotheby’s by the Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits for £690,850, more than twice the reserve and a record for a literary work by any of the three sisters. The price of the bonnet painting was driven up on the same day by determined phone bidding to Northampton from the US.
Emily by Patrick Branwell Brontë (1817-1848)oil on canvas, arched top, circa 1833 © National Portrait Gallery, London.
by George Richmond
© National Portrait Gallery, London
Anne Brontë ( 1820 – 1849 ), English poet and writer by Charlotte Bronte, her sister.
Branwell Brontë by J. B. Leyland
A photograph believed to be that of Charlotte Brontë taken in the last year of her life in 1854. Brontë Parsonage Museum.
The Brontë sisters?
Whether it depicts them or not there’s certainly a Bronte connection. The ladies resemble them, their names are on the back and there’s a link to a photo in the Bronte Museum.
Update: Charlotte Brontë letter