Charles Dickens by Margaret Gillies (The Lost Portrait), 1843

Collection
Object
Object number (per part)
DH773, 2019.2.1
Object name (per part)
painting
Production person
Gillies, Margaret
Production date
1843
Label
Please Note: The Lost Portrait is not currently on display due to essential conservation processes.

Margaret Gillies painted this extraordinary portrait of Charles Dickens in 1843. He was 31 at the time and writing ‘A Christmas Carol’, emerging as the literary star he would become. Gillies was an established female artist and social campaigner at the time Dickens knew her. She was an early supporter of women’s suffrage and co-habited with the sanitary reformer and physician Dr Thomas Southwood Smith (1788–1861). She provided the illustrations for a report by Southwood Smith for the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Children’s Employment in Mines and Manufactories (1842) – a report Dickens saw and was much impacted by.

The watercolour and gouache on ivory miniature was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1844 but by 1886, Gillies had lost sight of it entirely. The only visual record of it was a black and white engraving, until in 2017 the original re-surfaced in a house clearance sale in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. When it was rediscovered a layer of mould was obscuring part of Dickens’ body. It has now undergone conservation work. It was formally re-identified by art dealers Philip Mould & Company and was placed on display in an exhibition ‘Charles Dickens: The Lost Portrait’ at their gallery in December 2018. In 2019, the Charles Dickens Museum successfully completed a fundraising campaign to acquire the portrait.
Credit line
Purchased with support from the Art Fund, the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund (National Lottery), the Dickens Fellowship and numerous private donors.