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Charlotte’s Paint-Box

Richard Bell’s Wild West Yorkshire nature diary,  Friday, 24th  April 2009

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paint box

IN THE CURRENT exhibition at The Parsonage at Howarth you can see Charlotte Brontë’s (1816-55) box of watercolours preserved, so we’re told, just as she left them. It’s thought that she used the box while at Roe Head School, Mirfield, which she attended at various times between 1831 and 1838.


Some of the cakes of colour, such as the yellow and the white, appear to have been little used as the decorative stamp of a crown and Prince of Wales’ feathers is still clear, others look well worn.


Tucked away at the front of the box is a stub of a brush with what appears to be a goose quill ferrule. Perhaps this little brush was used for mixing colours rather than painting.

I feel that Charlotte was as talented as her brother Branwell (1817-48) in her artwork. Some of her botanical watercolours are on display along with the cartoons she added to her letters. There are also tonal drawings of Kirkstall Abbey and Bolton Abbey.


It’s often suggested that Branwell didn’t make as much headway as he might have as a professional painter because of the time he spent in the Black Bull  (right) just across the churchyard from the Parsonage.


George Blackman, Colour Man

Charlotte’s watercolours were manufactured by G Blackman Superfine Colour Preparer. At either side of the impressive coat of arms engraved on the label are the phrases:

‘Warehouses supplied at Lowest Terms . . . For Ready Money only’!

An endorsement from Samuel Moore, secretary of the Society of Arts, Adelphi, praises Blackman’s ‘Improvement in Superfine Colour in Cakes’, awarding him a ‘Large Silver Pallet’ and 20 guineas (£21).

The colours in the original set: Light Red, Green Bice, Lake, Van Brown, Chrome Yellow, Prussian Blue, Vermillion, Sap Green, Verdifer, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber and Flake White.

Green Bice was made from smalt, a basic copper carbonate. Lake was a dark red or crimson, probably still made at this time from lac, a resinous protective coating secreted on trees by the females a south-east Asian plant bug. Lac was used to make shellac and dye.

George Blackman (c.1759-1819) invented a method of manufacturing oil paint in cake form and it was for this that he was awarded the silver palette in June 1794, but he was primarily a supplier of watercolours. Between 1801 and 1823 his company traded from premises at the ‘sign of the Blue Coat Boy, 362 Oxford Street’.


The Brontë Parsonage Museum

British Artists’ Suppliers, 1650 - 1950, National Portrait Gallery