The missing picture of Charles Dickens


In the 1880s, before her death, Scottish artist Margaret Gillies was appealed by the author Frederick George Kitton, who needed to understand where Gillies’ old portraits. Kitton was recording about Charles Dickens and he knew Gillies had portrayed the artist in 1843, but where was the portrait now? Gillies answered she didn’t know, telling she had “missed view of it”. This answer could be used to her own heritage. Like a lot of female artists, it was fated that the future would “lose sight” of Margaret Gillies.

The missing picture of Charles Dickens
Margaret Gillies

Picture of Charles Dickens was also shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1844. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning describes that the portrait “has the dirt and filth of mankind, in spite of those hawk eyes”. The Royal Academy did not admit female members at this date, the 1844 exhibition directory shows some female artists showed that year. All of the women named in the list have gone into obscurity, while a lot of the male artists continue to be famous today. Of the 1,410 pictures on exhibition, four were by Margaret.

That display was the last moment Gillies’s picture of Dickens was seen in society, and later generations just are aware of it because of the signature was on it. Over the years, Gillies’s picture of the attractive junior author – so various from the more popular paintings of him in older years – began to be appreciated by art historians and Dickensians as “the lost portrait”.Missed, presumed damaged.

The missing picture of Charles Dickens

The next travel of the picture was shrouded in strangeness. What is known is that it one day turned in South Africa from where, in 2018, the Philip Mould Gallery in London, they got an email with information about a tiny picture, so covered in fungus and trash that the painting was hardly recognized. The specialist had got it in a “case of trash”, and he paid, for all cases, the equivalent of £27.

A modern house

The picture is located in London. In October 2019 the portrait has new residence, The Charles Dickens Museum. It looks over the room to Dickens’s table, a reminder of a junior utopian guy who so wildly needed to create the world a better, more kind place.

In 1861, Margaret Gillies came back home in London with her sister Mary. Margaret died in 1887. Due to the finding of the missed picture, the hero of Margaret Gillies is recovering, although gradually, to public awareness. Her obituary wrote of a great lady of the art world but glossed over her personal life, however, Gillies would hopefully have been satisfied by an obituary.


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