Sat. May 21st, 2022

Summon a picture of Charles Dickens, and his lush “doorknocker” beard will be one of the first things that comes to mind. But an “extremely rare” portrait of the author depicting the “glorious” mustache he has only had for a few years should show his fatter side.

Dickens is believed to have first experimented with a mustache in 1844, and appears to have been enormously pleased with the new look. “The mustaches are glorious, glorious. I’ve cut them shorter, and trimmed them a little at the ends to improve their shape,” he wrote to his friend, artist Daniel Maclise. “They’re charming, charming. Without them, life would be empty. “

Later, when he discovered that his brother Fred had also become a mustache, Dickens wrote to his wife, Catherine: “He has a mustache … I feel (as the stage villains say) that either he or I must fall. The earth will not keep us both. “

The daguerreotype profile portrait of Dickens was donated to the Charles Dickens Museum last year
The daguerreotype profile portrait of Dickens was donated to the Charles Dickens Museum last year Photo: Lewis_Bush / The Charles Dickens Museum

A sharp, detailed daguerreotype profile portrait of Dickens with his mustache was made around 1852-55 when he wrote Bleak House and the Hard Times. It was donated to the Charles Dickens Museum in London by a private collector last year, and the museum has shown it for the first time until March 31, limiting the time it is shown to ensure its preservation. The image had previously been in the private collection for 20 years after it was rediscovered in the collection by a retired Irish photography enthusiast, Charles Cloney.

Emily Smith, the museum’s curator, said the portrait was “extremely rare”. “A Dickens with a mustache is hard to find,” she said. “While his bearded face is recognizable right away, Dickens’ early experiments with facial furniture are far less well documented, and the evidence is sparse. Dickens was image-conscious, certainly a dandy; his public image was carefully crafted and presented, and portrait sessions were not taken lightly, though they were not always enjoyed. “

Not everyone was impressed with the author’s new look. According to British Library curator Andrea Lloyd, Dickens’ friend John Forster described the mustache as a “common disfigurement” and delayed a portrait of the author he had commissioned because of it.

The mustache developed, however: in 1853, Dickens had added a “Newgate Fringe,” or hair under the chin. Traveling in Italy with Wilkie Collins, author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone, the couple participated in a contest on facial hair waxing. Dickens wrote to his wife Catherine: “You can remember how the corners of his mouth go down and how he sees through his glasses and controls his legs. I do not know what it’s like, but the mustache is a terrible aggravation of all this. He smooths it down over the mouth, in imitation of the present great Original. “

By 1858, it had grown into the full beard he is known for today – something that friends feared for old Dickens. But the author said it “saved him the hassle of shaving, and much as he admired his own appearance before letting his beard grow, he admired it much more now and never neglected when an opportunity presented itself to see himself. sat on him himself “.

The Charles Dickens Museum’s daguerreotype was created by John Jabez Edwin Mayall on his 224 Regent Street studio. His technique involved covering the center of the image with “sorted zinc” before exposing the entire image to light, erasing all details except those protected by the zinc. “The technique produced very detailed images,” said the Charles Dickens Museum, located at 48 Doughty Street, Dickens’ only surviving London home. “In the Mayall portrait, Dickens’ tousled hair, broad mustache and the individual lines around his eyes and mouth and on his forehead are vividly reproduced.”

In 1852, Dickens wrote to his girlfriend, philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, about how he had sat for a portrait with Mayall, saying that “I’m willing to think of the portrait, by far the best copy of anything that way. I’ve ever seen. “

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