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See a Newly Colorized Photograph of Charles Dickens

The image, set to go on view once London museums are allowed to reopen, shows off the prolific author’s playful fashion sense

The colorized photograph shows 47-year-old Dickens in a blue, green and yellow waistcoat; a navy blue jacket; and tan trousers. (Courtesy of the Dickens Museum)
smithsonianmag.com

Ahead of the 150th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ death, the London museum that bears his name has released the first in a set of eight newly colorized photographs of the Victorian author.

Per a statement, the photographs will serve as the grand finale of a planned exhibition titled “Technicolor Dickens: The Living Image of Charles Dickens.” The show—featuring photographs, artwork, clothing, personal items and other artifacts—will debut once the English capital’s museums, which are currently closed amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, are allowed to reopen.

In the newly released image, the 47-year-old writer sports a navy jacket over a green, yellow and blue tartan waistcoast. His black bow tie, worn with a simple white shirt, peeks out beneath his dark, bushy beard. Dickens finishes off the outfit with a pair of tan trousers.

“Seeing Dickens in color reveals so much,” Oliver Clyde, the portrait and still life photographer who colorized the images, tells the Guardian’s Mark Brown. “You can see photographs where he clearly hasn’t run a comb through his hair for days, where his beard is all over the place or where he’s sweating after being made to stand in a hot room for hours on end.”

The Charles Dickens Museum’s announcement arrives a few days before the 150th anniversary of Dickens’ June 9, 1870, death. The author was 58 years old when he suffered a stroke while at dinner with sister-in-law Mary Hogarth.

When Hogarth told her brother-in-law that he looked ill, Dickens replied, “No, I have a toothache. I shall be better presently.” Soon after, he fell unconscious and died, per a contemporary account in the Manchester Guardian.

During his life, Dickens enjoyed wider popularity than any author before him, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. His work—including such novels as A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and A Tale of Two Cities—appealed to a broad audience thanks to its realism and wit.

Dickens museum curator Frankie Kubicki tells the Guardian that the upcoming exhibition aims to bring visitors closer to the writer by examining his public image.

“There’s a real sparkle of vitality, which is lost in the black and white,” Kubicki tells Jessie Thompson at the Evening Standard. “And a glint in his eyes and a kind of very playful nature, which is really heightened by the color.”

Dickens loved fashion and colorful, daring styles that don’t show up well in black-and-white photographs. To accurately add color to the images, researchers consulted experts who specialize in Victorian fashion, as well great-great grandsons Gerald and Mark Dickens, who provided a sense of the writer’s skin tone and complexion, according to BBC News.

“It was slightly disconcerting to see the results,” Gerald tells the Guardian. “I’m sure we’ve all seen the World War I colorization which just transformed people’s views of those soldiers. It brought them to life and that is exactly what is happening with this. … It creates a character you can really identify with. It brings you much closer to him.”

The team settled on a tanned complexion that reflects Dickens’ outdoorsy lifestyle. In letters acquired by the Dickens Museum in February, Dickens detailed numerous daily excursions: “Picture me clambering over this, with a great leaping pole, and half a dozen iron points buckled on to the soles of my shoes, and washing my face with snow, and going down to drink melted ice like chrystal [sic], and staggering and hauling myself up into places like Dreams,” he wrote in one letter.

The eight colorized photographs will go on view to the public when the museum reopens. But as representatives tell the Evening Standard, the London institution is one of many museums facing financial trouble amid lockdown.

“We have funds to get us through the end of April, and we’ve got a little bit of savings after that,” museum director Cindy Sughrue told the New York TimesNina Siegal in April. “I can see that we can eke out until September. But, if the social distancing measures continue beyond that, then there’s a real danger that we will not survive.”

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