The story of how Dickens’portrait is back in London

Sometimes it is the fortuitous discoveries that make the history of art. This is the case of a precious portrait of the famous British writer, journalist and travel reporter Charles Dickens. Known for his humorous proofs as well as for his social novels, the author was the protagonist of the art press of the last year. 

Margaret Gillies’ 1843 artwork found among trinkets

Margaret Gillies’ 1843 artwork found by chance in South Africa

One of the few artistically important portraits of Dickens still in existence was found in South Africa. The portrait, disappeared for over 175 years, was contained in an old box kept in a vintage shop. For just 27 pounds, a lucky buyer brought to the light a painting of much greater value.

The box, containing old objects including a metal lobster, an old recorder, and a brass plate, preserved as well a small painting. Actually, this was so covered with mold that it was impossible to establish who the subject was.

However, the decision to restore the picture to its former glory led to a sensational discovery. The painting purchased for a few tens of pounds, in fact, is a portrait of Charles Dickens. Dated at the end of 1843, that’s the result of artist Margaret Gillies’work. At that time, the English writer was 31 years old, and he had literally risen to the limelight and fame thanks to the short novel “A Christmas Carol”.

Brought back to life: Dickens’portrait restoration

In particular, the restoration, entrusted to the care of the expert Philip Mold, brought to light what seemed to be one of the many lost works that was never going to be found again.

The first to mobilize for the work to return to England was the Charles Dickens Museum in London. The Museum immediately launched a fundraiser to be able to grab the coveted portrait.

While waiting to find a place in the collection dedicated entirely to the English artist, the painting found was exhibited in the London gallery Philip Mold & Company. Before the discovery, Dickens’portrait entered the public scene just once as part of the 1844 Royal Academy summer exhibition.

Dickens’portrait found its way home

Dickens’portrait found its way home at the Dickens Museum

The Dickens Museum received funding from the Art Found and the Lottery-funded Arts Council England V / A Purchase Grant Fund to bring the painting back home. In addition, is significant the participation of private individuals, admirers of Dickens who contributed to the recovery of Margaret Gillies’ work.

Cindy Sughrue, director of the museum dedicated to the writer, commented on the discovery of the portrait of Dickens:

We are so excited to be bringing the portrait home. We are extremely grateful for the generous support that we received. It is a magnificent affirmation of the enduring appeal of Dickens’s writing and the worldwide fascination that he continues to inspire.

By the time the painter worked on portraiture, Dickens had already gained fame as an emerging literary star of his time.

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