Contemporary Portraitures 

I have been a Brontë Society member and interested in the Brontës since 1996. As an artist, I've done portraits for 30+ years after studying art and graduating with a B.A. and honors -- portraiture being my proficiency. My first visit to Haworth was some years ago. When I returned from my trip; I had a more vivid picture of what life may have been like for the Brontës. From a suggestion of a Bronte Society staff member; I decided to do my own portrait interpretations of the sisters. I decided to do Branwell (their brother) also, as so few exist.

Most artists have represented Charlotte somewhat prettier. I wanted to come up with a more contemporary rendering, according to my research. I believe Charlotte was plainer than previously depicted by the artist Richmond. No one ever wants their portrait to represent them less attractive as they really are, or with flaws that they might physically have. Charlotte in her own words, was not attractive, but plain. I believe 1800's portraiture was the only way of representation before photography came to birth in the mainstream. So, I wanted to do an interpretation as to how they might realistically appear….or at least a contemporary version, as opposed to what we have seen in past depicitions.

Here was my process:

P Bentley Maria For all three sisters, I began with their mother Maria's existing picture when she was 15.

Branwell's depiction (Pillar Portrait) of the three girls seems to also resemble their mother at approximately the same age. There is an obvious similarity in the shape of the faces and noses.

I used Maria's features from Branwell's early painting, descriptions from various books regarding eye color, facial structure, hair, etc., as my guideline.
Pillar Portrait by Branwell

For Charlotte: Described as having a ruddy complexion, square forehead, poor eyesight (in my rendition with spectacles), and a tight, frizzy curl for her thick brown hair (as described by her best friend Ellen Nussey). Charlotte's head was rather large for her petite frame; with more of a square facial shape.

For Emily: "a fuller face, for such a thin figure, large nose, with a pallid, ashen complexion." For her hair, I used Branwell's existing side profile of Emily (that had been part of a once-existing portrait of all three sisters.) Though I believe Emily probably wore her hair up in a comb, I used Branwell's hairstyle depiciton of Emily, for my version.

George Lewes
G. (George) H. Lewes

Charlotte commented on two portraits that she said struck her as looking so much like Emily. One was Charlotte's own portrait by Richmond, and the other, was a portrait of G.H. Lewes.
From these two portraits, I came up with Emily's finale version.

Branwell's Portrait of Emily


 Anne Bronte drawn by Charlotte
For Anne: I primarily used profile drawings done by Charlotte when Anne was younger, and left her hair in the same style as Charlotte portrayed her. I have read descriptions that Anne also had a receding chin. Her complexion was porcelain and her eyes, violet/blue.
 Anne Bronte

For Branwell: Carrot color mane, spectacles, small eyes, large Roman nose (as father Patrick), here on right........

Patrick Bronte

 Branwell Self Portrait
I worked from these two existing profiles of Branwell -- his self-portrait profile sketch, and this profile on the right, that hangs in the dining room at the Brontë Parsonage. Branwell - Parsonage

After completing each drawing in pencil, I then colorized them individually on the computer.
For the backdrop, I superimposed my painting of the moors.

My final conception as to how they may have looked…..

Tanke Contemporary Brontes
Charlotte, Emily and Anne

and Branwell....

If interested, portrait prints and bookmarks are available
by contacting the artist at:

Life, believe, is not a dream
So dark as sages say;
Oft a little morning rain
Foretells a pleasant day........

Clouds of gloom,
But these are transient all;
If the shower will make
the roses bloom,
O why lament its fall?

Rapidly, merrily,
Life’s sunny hours flit by.
Gratefully, cherrily,
Enjoy them as they fly!

What though Death
at times steps in,
And calls our Best away?
What though sorrow
seems to win,
O’er hope, a heavy sway?

Charlotte Bronte bookmark sample

Yet hope again elastic springs,
Unconquered, though she fell;
Still bouyant are
her golden wings,
Still strong to bear us well.

Manfully, fearlessly,
The day of trial bear,
For gloriously, victoriously,
Can courage quell despair!

Brontë Site Home Page

web design and all images by bjtanke