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Watercolour of the Old Curiosity Shop



Object number (per part)


Object name (per part)



Little Nell's Home
The Old Curiosity Shop

Production person

Cattermole, George

Production date



This watercolour by George Cattermole illustrates a passage from The Old Curiosity Shop, a novel by Charles Dickens serialised in Master Humphrey's Clock from 1840 to 1841. The composition is based on an engraving from the original series, produced by the same artist, where Nell is depicted with her grandfather in the interior of her home. This painting was owned by Dickens from 1842 and stayed in his possession until his death in 1870.

Other number

2092 (2009 DH object access database number)
14 (Gad's Hill Sale Catalogue (9th July 1870), Modern Pictures etc.)

Physical description

This framed watercolour painting depicts Nell and her grandfather inside a room of her house that is filled with various curiosities.

Object history note

It has been assumed that this painting, together with its companion picture, The Grave of little Nell (held at the V&A), were commissioned by Dickens, however, no primary sources seem to allude to this being the case. On the contrary, no payment to Cattermole is recorded in Dickens’s accounts in the 18 months after the painting was received, perhaps suggesting that the pictures were gifts. The idea that these works were commissioned is further complicated by the inscription found in the bottom left corner of Little Nell’s Home, indicating that it was produced in 1840, two years before Dickens received the piece. This date corresponds to that of the original illustrations and engravings produced for the first edition of The Old Curiosity Shop in 1840.

Whatever the reason for their inception, Dickens was extremely happy to have had them given to him. In a letter to Cattermole dated 20 December 1842, he declared that ‘It is impossible for me to tell you how greatly I am charmed with those beautiful pictures, in which the whole feeling and thought and expression of the little story is rendered to the gratification of my inmost heart; and on which you have lavished those amazing resources of yours with a power at which I fairly wondered when I sat down yesterday before them.’

Cattermole had a good working relationship with Dickens having been asked to collaborate with Daniel Maclise and Hablot Browne on the illustrations for The Old Curiosity Shop. The two watercolour paintings are based on Cattermole’s designs for illustrations in the original series; however, there are distinct departures from the engravings. In Little Nell’s Home there is an addition of a bust on the stacked table at the back, and on the ceiling above the door, a head of Christ with a small cross. The bust’s hair and facial features seem to resemble that of Shakespeare, a playwright Dickens greatly admired and quoted in his own writing. The similarity between Shakespeare and the bust is corroborated by the compilers of the pilgrim edition of letters by Dickens and shows Cattermole’s incisive knowledge of Dickens’s interests.

The painting stayed in the possession of Charles Dickens from 1842 until his death and has, therefore, been on display at his houses at Devonshire Terrace, Tavistock Square and Gad's Hill. Following his death, the painting was purchased at the Gad's Hill sale in 1870 by D.M.Evans and was later exhibited at Edinburgh Museum of Science and Art.

Inscription content

[monogram] 1840

Inscription description

Bottom left hand corner
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