Dickens portrait – a few good men and women needed to come to the rescue

Date post added: 21 December 2018

From the Charles Dickens Museum: An Appeal

Help All of Us – Yourself, the Dickens Museum, Help Us All – 'God bless us all'

Help us save the Lost Portrait for the nation by donating to our Lost Portrait Appeal by 25th January
To find out more about the rediscovery and the story behind the portrait click here


First, a few words about the portrait – its appeal and the appeal – from the Director of the Charles Dickens Museum. Then I'll (David) add my two cents' worth (and throw in a much-loved poem for good measure). PLEASE please give this the two minutes or so it'll take to read. And lend a hand if you can. Spread the word, etc. 

"A stunning portrait of Charles Dickens as a young man, missing since the 1880s, has been found and returned to London by Philip Mould, art expert and broadcaster (BBC’s Fake or Fortune). It is now being offered for sale to the Charles Dickens Museum, which has to raise £180,000 to secure it.

"So what? Why does this portrait matter so much?

"Because it captures something rather special about Charles Dickens and his work.

"The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, when she sees the portrait shortly after it is completed, says that Dickens has “the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes".

"Dickens is 31 years old – he has written a number of novels and has become a household name in Britain, and abroad.

"You can see this early success in his face.

"But you can also see something troubling, something haunting him, a glimpse of what he has seen in what becomes known as the hungry 40s.

"And while Margaret Gillies is painting this portrait, during a series of sittings in the autumn of 1843, Charles Dickens is writing A Christmas Carol.

"And looking into those ‘eagle eyes’, we are reminded of the key themes of that much-loved and enduring tale:

-       That everyone has the capacity for kindness and compassion

-       That no one is beyond redemption

-       That each of us can do something to make a difference in this world to help those less fortunate.

"That is why this portrait matters. The Charles Dickens Museum wants to give it a permanent home where it can continue to inspire people now and for generations to come." Dr. Cindy Sughrue OBE  Director  Charles Dickens Museum

                                      c. Simon Bevan   c. Philip Mould & Company

My (David's) turn. 

I'd just add this to Cindy Sughrue's spot on remarks: this wonderful portrait hasn't been seen for nearly 175 years. If the Dickens House Museum isn't able to raise the money to buy the portrait and keep it in the public realm chances are we, the public, won't be seeing it again for another 175 years. Or 350 years. Or however long. Why? Because that's what happens to great art that becomes the private possession of someone who's "fabulously wealthy." That's part of the appeal to them. They can show off it to their friends. (The verbal phrase I've just coined doesn't require any explanation.) And then there's the satisfaction of knowing that they've got something really valuable that "ordinary" people don't have, can't have, can't see. It's part of the never-ending "delineation process" of the super-rich.

This website – www.walks.com – gets nearly a million hits a year. If everybody who stopped by here contributed £1 – $1 (what's that, less than half the price of a Starbucks Expresso) – the Dickens House Museum would be home and dry in a couple of months. And the portrait would be home and safe.

The super-rich – the "Masters of the Universe" in Tom Wolfe's wonderful phrase – have an impossible amount of clout, way too much clout for the good of the rest of us. But they don't have it all. We – the many – can checkmate "the Masters of the Universe" if we pull together. 

We – London Walks – will certainly be making a donation, doing our best to try to keep this wonderful portrait from being "privatised." I hope a lot of you will join us. A quid, a buck, a euro – individually it's nothing, put it altogether it's everything. Or at least enough to slam the door in the face of some moneybags who'd "really like to have that Dickens portrait" all to himself.

Here's the poem. It's called Cathedral Builders. It's by John Ormond. It's a favourite of mine.

Let the last line really sink in. Be great if each of us could be in a position to say those words – experience that satisfaction – in relation to this "cathedral."  Thanks.

They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
defied gravity,
deified stone,
took up God's house to meet him,
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer's swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour's roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
got rheumatism,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, 'I bloody did that.'