Image: still life by Laurency (French)

The website of Philip Mould & Company will direct you to their podcast of a three part series entitled The Lost Portrait. You may know the art dealer Mr Mould, who is also President of Plantlife International, from his appearances with Fiona Bruce in the BBC programme (episodes available on BBC iPlayer) Fake or Fortune?

In 2017, an auction of household goods was held in Pietermaritzburg, in the South African province of Kwazulu-Natal. A man paid the equivalent of £27 for a cardboard tray containing four objects. One was a miniature watercolour painting covered in “a particularly virulent, nasty yellow mould”. The new owner removed the frame and sold it, and considered discarding the painting. However, having successfully cleaned it and been motivated to carry out online research, he contacted Emma Rutherford, portrait miniature specialist and consultant for Philip Mould & Company.

It transpired that he was in possession of a “lost portrait” of Charles Dickens (1812-1870), painted in 1843 by Margaret Gillies. It was exhibited at the 1844 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. When Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw it, she commented that it showed Dickens with “the dust and mud of humanity about him”.

The portrait has been acquired by the Charles Dickens Museum in Doughty St, and will be on display there from 10am today (Thursday, 24th October).

Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities was published in 1859. The central setting in the story of Tellson’s Bank is usually identified as the “real life” Child & Co. in Fleet Street, which leased rooms above Temple Bar as a storage space for its records. Dickens wrote:

“When they took a young man into Tellson’s London house, they hid him somewhere till he was old. They kept him in a dark place, like a cheese, until he had the full Tellson’s flavour and blue-mould upon him. Then only was he permitted to be seen…”.

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