I nipped into the National Portrait Gallery last week with an old friend to see the temporary exhibition about Charlotte Brontë, it being the 200th anniversary of her death. I thought it was a very well presented room full of iconic images and objects - so much so, I wonder what's been left at the parsonage?
Anyway, of all the items, the one that always sparks people's imaginations is the family portrait by Branwell Brontë, painted when he was just 17 years old. Famously, it contains images of the three sisters, but Branwell chose to paint out his own face by turning it into a pillar. Troubled soul, or was he just not happy with the likeness?
To me though, the most amazing thing about this painting is its condition. Time and again as artists we are encouraged to buy the best of everything, the latest fad, to ensure our paints don't fade and the paper doesn't deteriorate. Everything must be pristine. Branwell's portrait, however, was folded up and kept on top of a cupboard for years, slowly rotting away. When discovered and put on display the historians decided not to renovate the canvas, but instead to show all of its creases and missing paint. The state of the painting itself was just as important in its story.
So if there is any moral to this tale it is this - don't fret over buying the best of everything. Art can be made with anything and on anything. What matters is what you invest in the piece, through thought, passion and enjoyment. And if you're worried about it outliving you? Leave it in the capable hands of the conservators!
The Brontë Sisters, by Branwell Brontë