Lost Portrait of Charles Dickens finds its way home


Today, the Charles Dickens Museum is delighted to announce that, following a successful fundraising campaign, it has acquired and secured the future of the ‘lost portrait’ of Dickens. Recently re-discovered by Philip Mould & Co, the exquisite portrait miniature by Margaret Gillies has found a permanent home at the Museum at 48 Doughty Street, the London residence where Dickens wrote Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, completed The Pickwick Papers and began Barnaby Rudge.

Since launching the Lost Portrait Appeal in November 2018, the Museum has received magnificently generous donations from admirers of Dickens from all over the world and substantial grants from Art Fund and the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, to meet the £180, 000 target and enable the portrait to join its permanent collection.

The Gillies portrait will go on display from 24th October 2019 and will be a highlight of the festive season. The portrait will become a regular part of the Museum’s programme of displays, though it will require times away from display to preserve the quality of the 176-year-old watercolour.

Dr Cindy Sughrue, Director of the Charles Dickens Museum, said, “We are so excited to be bringing the ‘lost’ portrait home and are extremely grateful for, and touched by, the generous support that we have received from individual donors all over the world, and our major funders, Art Fund and the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. It is a magnificent affirmation of the enduring appeal of Dickens’s writing and the worldwide fascination that he continues to inspire. We are honoured to have worked alongside our partners in this endeavour, Philip Mould & his team, who brought the painting back into the public eye. My thoughts go back to last year, when Philip first contacted us and showed us an image of the painting. It was a memorable, heart-in-mouth moment, to say the least. This is a vibrant portrayal of Dickens, at 31 years of age, already known the world over but with so much still ahead of him and in the midst of writing arguably his best-loved work, A Christmas Carol.”

In 2017, the portrait miniature covered in mould was sold in an auction of household goods in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in a box of trinkets alongside a brass dish, an old recorder and a metal toy lobster. Last year, the painting arrived at the Philip Mould & Co Gallery in London and, following conservation and provenance research, was confirmed to be the portrait of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) painted by Margaret Gillies (1803-1887) over six sittings in 1843.

After the publication of A Christmas Carol, with Dickens firmly in the public eye, Gillies’ portrait was exhibited at the 1844 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition and it quickly became the defining image of Dickens. On seeing the portrait, the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said it “has the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes”. However, in 1886, Gillies noted that she had ‘lost sight of the portrait itself’. It remained lost until the South African auction in 2017.

To read and watch the full story about the rediscovery of Dickens's Lost Portrait click here.


Messages from our Supporters

Philip Mould, Director, Philip Mould & Company, said, “Dickens’s astonishing re-emergence, not least from beneath an obscuring wall of fungus, could never have been predicted. We are thrilled he is finally checking into his London home after such a global adventure - it is an epic tale with a supremely happy ending.”

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund, said, “We're very pleased to have supported this excellent new acquisition by the Charles Dickens Museum. Portraying a young Dickens in the year A Christmas Carol was published, it will brilliantly animate the story of his life and works at his former home in Bloomsbury. Thought lost for over 170 years, this important portrait can now be enjoyed by visitors to the Museum for years to come.”

Julia Brettell, Manager, Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, said, “This captivating portrait miniature of the young Charles Dickens is a key acquisition for the Charles Dickens Museum. Painted at a critical moment in his career, it depicts Dickens not only as a writer on the cusp of huge success, but also reflects his passion for social reform. The Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund is pleased to be able to contribute to the purchase and to support the Museum’s role as a centre for the study and appreciation of Dickens’s life and work.”

With special thanks to the Art Fund, Arts Council England/ V&A Purchase Grant Fund and all of our donors. Full list to be announced shortly.


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