Five unfortunate depictions of Dickens! By Denis Moiseev

For many of us, a bad photo is a temporary annoyance, one that is quickly remedied with the prompt tap of a delete button. For celebrities or people in the public eye however, keeping face is not always as easy. Although politicians and other famous individuals aim to protect their public image, on occasion, an unfortunate picture can be snapped up by the tabloids: Ed Miliband eating a bacon sandwich comes to mind, or if we want an earlier example, Charles Dickens’s face superimposed on a jackdaw’s body with the plumes of a peacock some 170 years ago …

 Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.182

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.182

One of the drawers in our collection store was aptly nicknamed “The Drawer of Doom” and was full of prints, photographs and drawings of Charles Dickens. Some are of a very good quality, but many are rather bizarre or just plain bad. With the advent of photography, many artists and draughtsmen had the opportunity to represent the writer without ever having met him. To make things worse, some of these engravings and prints were copied from one another and therefore, slowly lost their original likenesses. In this blog post we’ve compiled five of the worst depictions of Dickens found in this collection.

First of all, why would anyone put Dickens’s face on a jackdaw with peacock plumes? Was it supposed to poke fun at Dickens’s dandyism? Well, we’ve done a bit of research and the answer will follow in a later blog post!

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.21 and E200.22

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.21 and E200.22

Here, it appears as though we have an illustration depicting Dickens before and after a trip to his barber. For whatever reason, the artist decided to make a second state with Dickens sporting a moustache, comprised of five separate tufts of hair.

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.52

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.52

This coloured print is very unusual in its style even though it represents a highly popular subject, that of Dickens being surrounded by his characters. It was based on a photograph by Herbert Watkins from 1861.

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.94 and DH 40

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.94 and DH 40

This terrible engraving is after Dickens’s bust by Henry Dexter, known as one of the most accurate depictions of a young Charles Dickens. It was published in an American periodical.

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.181

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.181

Round face, receding hairline, wide eyes and narrow mouth; a description unsuitable for a young man referred to as ‘exceedingly good-looking’ by his contemporary, Edward Blackmore. Yet, this is how Dickens was pictured in Reynolds’s Miscellany in 1847.

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.163

Charles Dickens Museum collection, E200.163

As previously explored in another blog post, Dickens was an actor and a vivacious, lively public reader. In these readings Dickens would act as if he were playing the part of his characters. Unfortunately, for the engraver of the present print, Charles Dickens, with his dislocated hands, looks like something out of Frankenstein rather than Oliver Twist.

 

Denis Moiseev was previously a collections intern at the Charles Dickens Museum and is completing his MA in the History of Art at Birkbeck, University of London. The internship was made possible with support from NADFAS.

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