REVIEW: Celebrating Charlotte Bronte: 1816 -1855 @National Portrait Gallery

It might not be the biggest display celebrating the life and career of Charlotte Bronte, but it is still an intimate glimpse of her personality and influences on her writing. 

Charlotte Bronte by George Richmond. (c) National Portrait Gallery.

Celebrating Charlotte Bronte: 1816-1855  puts the author’s life and career into context, with a variety of letters and diary entries as well as paintings and sculptures of those who supported her or influenced her work.

Despite the fact that this display is confined to one room, it is fascinating to wonder around, discovering the ways in which her imagination and passion for writing developed from an early age playing games with her other siblings in particular her brother Branwell and whose heroes included the Duke of Wellington.

Wondering around the room, the display has a very personal feel about it that allows the visitor to get a fresh and more intimate perspective of the author’s life both as a person and as a writer.

For example we learn that she appreciated the work of Walter Scott, who after reading one of his works Charlotte Bronte said that all other novels were “worthless” in comparison. It is moments like this, when the author’s voice comes through that we begin to understand more about the reasons behind why she wrote the way she did.

Would it be better if the display was allowed a bit more space to make an impact – instead of being hidden away? Yes. It is the only thing that lets the display down as it is a bit hidden away that some people might miss it completely and considering its the 200th anniversary of her birth it is surprising that the display is so small and discreet.

However, there is a wide range of objects on display that will fascinate and delight visitors such as some of the miniatures that Bronte painted – which are surprisingly detailed and charming to look at. It is detailed but there is plenty of ground that could be covered.

Overall, it is charming and well researched but could have been expanded to include even more detail that the author herself deserves in the 200th anniversary since her birth.

Celebrating Charlotte Bronte: 1816-1855 is on display at the National Portrait Gallery until the 14th August. Admission to the display is free of charge. 

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