Collection Spotlight: Charles Dickens Museum

A posthumous portrait of Dickens and his characters; Dickens's Dream, 1875 (oil on canvas), Robert William Buss (1804-75) / Charles Dickens Museum, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

The Charles Dickens Museum in London has opened a new exhibition, Technicolour Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens to mark the 150th anniversary of the great Victorian writer’s death in 2020. A collection of new images to celebrate the exhibition and mark the anniversary are now available through Bridgeman Images.

The Charles Dickens Museum houses a collection of over 100,000 items including spectacular artworks, grand objects, precious manuscripts and fascinating archives. Located at 48 Doughty Street, London WC1, it is the last surviving London family home of Charles Dickens (1812-70). Dickens lived in the house from 1837-9, during which time he established himself as a writer and rose to international fame. During his tenancy at the property Dickens completed The Pickwick Papers and wrote the novels Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby. The Museum is considered to be the world’s most comprehensive repository of material related to his life and works. 

The building, which is Grade 1 listed, was purchased by the Dickens Fellowship along with neighbouring 49 Doughty Street in 1922, and it opened as a museum in 1925. In 2012 the Museum underwent a major redevelopment project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund and was transformed into an early Victorian home, displaying the Museum’s magnificent collection. The adjoining 49 Doughty Street houses an event space, a café, an education room, a research library, and three rooms dedicated to special exhibitions. 

Dickens, the Day After His Death, 1870 (pencil on paper), John Everett Millais (1829-96) / Charles Dickens Museum, London, UK / Bridgeman Images

The current special exhibition, Technicolour Dickens explores the enduring power of Dickens’s image through the Museum’s world-class collection. Starting in Dickens’s lifetime, it traces his image through artists’ interpretations and depictions in popular culture, to reimagining’s by new technologies.

The exhibition draws on the Museum’s brilliant collection of over 500 portraits of the writer.  Significant highlights of this diverse collection of paintings, busts, prints, ephemera, and photographs include the first known portrait of Dickens at 18 by his aunt Janet Barrow, and the last known sketch, done at his bedside after his death, by the pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais. 

Original image (George) Herbert Watkins, Dickens dressed in jacket and Clan Gordon ancient tartan waistcoat, c.1859, 2020 (collodion print), Oliver Clyde (21st century) / Charles Dickens Museum, London, UK / © Oliver Clyde / Bridgeman Images

The exhibitions’ star exhibits are a suite of eight enlarged photographic portraits from the Museum’s collection. Painstakingly digitally colourised by the artist and photographer Oliver Clyde, Dickens is presented anew, vivid and bright.

Copy of a daguerreotype of Charles Dickens, original image late 19th century, colourised by Oliver Clyde, 2020 (collodion print), Oliver Clyde (21st century) / Charles Dickens Museum, London, UK / © Oliver Clyde / Bridgeman Images

These images are reimaginings of the author and are underpinned by scholarly research. Groundbreaking analysis of the photographers and their studios creates the atmosphere of the images, while assessments of objects and artworks in the Museum’s collection and photographic studies of living Dickens descendants create the colour palette.

One aspect of Dickens that these images have allowed us to celebrate is his love of dress. Dickens was a huge fan of bright colours, rich materials and textures that are often lost in the black and white photographs that are so well known. These colours and materials were often so exuberant they caused quite a stir. 

Dickens standing at a desk, right hand on his hip, original image 1859, colourised by Oliver Clyde, 2020 (collodion print), Oliver Clyde (21st century) / Charles Dickens Museum, London, UK / © Oliver Clyde / Bridgeman Images

This outfit matches descriptions of clothes Dickens wore on his 1842 American tour. Elizabeth Wormeley, who met Dickens in Boston, later described how his dress was ‘conspicuous’ and included ‘two velvet waistcoats, one of vivid green, the other brilliant crimson’, which were ‘further ornamented by a profusion of gold watch-chain.’ Seeing these vibrant colours depicted shows another side to Dickens which often gets overlooked. 

To celebrate the opening of this exhibition – which is on display until the 25th of April 2021 – these new colour images will be available in partnership with Bridgeman Images and present Dickens as you have never seen him before.


Discover Bridgeman Images' collection of images from the Charles Dickens Museum, or visit their website to learn more about current shows and events.


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