A palm-sized portrait of Charles Dickens was discovered at a house clearance in South Africa and has since been purchased by the Charles Dickens Museum.
The portrait of a youthful-looking Dickens at age 31, painted by Margaret Gilles in the 19th century, had been misplaced for over 130 years after the painter “lost sight of the portrait”. It was found in a cardboard box of trinkets despite its previous home being the 1844 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
Thankfully the portrait was identified by the buyer as being recognisably Dickens and an expert – art dealer Philip Mould – was called.
The Charles Dickens Museum received substantial grants from the Art Fund and the lottery-funded Arts Council England/Victoria & Albert Purchase Grant Fund, as well as donations from other admirers of the famous writer.
Cindy Sughrue, the director of the museum, said:
“We are so excited to be bringing the lost portrait home and we are extremely grateful, and touched by, the generous support that we have received. It is a magnificent affirmation of the enduring appeal of Dickens’s writing and the worldwide fascination that he continues to inspire.”
When Gillies painted Dickens he would have been in the midst of writing A Christmas Carol, and been relatively famous for his stories already. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw the portrait and remarked how it “has the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes”.
The rescued painting will be on display at the Dickens Museum from the 24th October with donations and proceeds going to restoration and preservation of the piece.