A Lost Portrait of Dickens Rediscovered

Portrait of Charles John Huffman Dickens (1812-1870), wearing dark jacket and cravat, white waistcoat, his dark hair worn collar-length in long curls, by Margaret Gillies RWS, 1843; Photo: Philip Mould & Company

An 1843 portrait of Charles Dickens was rediscovered in South Africa after being lost for 174 years. At a market in Pietermaritzburg last year, “[a] man paid the equivalent of £27 for a cardboard tray containing a metal lobster, an old recorder, a brass plate and a small painting which was so covered with mould that the face could barely be made out,” writes Mark Brown in The Guardian.

The painting has been identified as a portrait of Dickens by Margaret Gillies, which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844. Gillies painted the novelist during the very weeks when he first began writing A Christmas Carol. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote that it depicted “the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes.” Gillies had lost track of the painting by 1860. It seems to have been in the possession of a brother-in-law of her adopted daughter when he emigrated to South Africa in the 1860s.

The portrait is being unveiled today in London at The Dickens Museum where it will hopefully become part of the permanent collection. The museum is trying to raise funds to purchase it from the London art dealers Philip Mould and Company for £180,000. To support this effort, donate here.

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