Mark Bostridge at the Times Literary Supplement:
In the spring of 1914, one of the most famous images of authorship in English literary history went on public display for the first time. Branwell Brontë’s portrait of his sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, had been discovered in Ireland, on top of a ward-robe at Hill House, Banagher, formerly the home of Arthur Bell Nicholls, Charlotte Brontë’s widower, together with a portrait fragment of Emily Brontë from a lost work by Branwell, known as the “Gun Group” (Nicholls had cut the fragment from the painting and destroyed the rest).
Hurriedly purchased by the trustees of the National Portrait Gallery in London, at “a very moderate cost”, and relined but not restored, the heavily creased painting of the three sisters – folded at one time to an eighth of its original size – was hung next to a portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson. The portrait of Emily, purchased at the same time, was displayed directly beneath. As the public flocked to see the two paintings, articles in the press focused on “The Three Sisters” group, marvelling at its chance rediscovery, “negligible” status as a work of art, and compensating value as a historical relic. A few dissident voices attacked the late Mr Nicholls for his neglect of the painting and the consequent damage to it, as well as for his desecration of the “Gun Group”. “Oh, the barbarism of Charlotte’s husband”, lamented a reporter in the Daily Graphic.