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However, her fame as a novelist ensured that this crude portrait miniature of her friend Sophia Hudson in a white lace shawl and bonnet with blue ribbons rivalled the value of her first editions, and the miniatures of top rank artists, when it appeared at Neales of Nottingham for sale on November 29.

To be fair to Miss Brontë, she did not rate her pictorial talents highly. “It is not enough to have the artist’s eye, one must also have the artist’s hand to turn the first gift to practical account,” she wrote in 1848, some ten years after painting Mrs Hudson. “But when I examine the contents of my portfolio now, it seems as if, during the years it has been lying closed, some fairy has changed what I once thought sterling coin into dry leaves, and I feel much inclined to consign the whole collection of drawing to the fire.”

This miniature escaped the flames, having been presented to the sitter after one of two recorded visits undertaken by Charlotte Brontë to the Hudson farm near Bridlington. However, Mrs Hudson’s grandson, Edward Roundell Whipp North, reported it “missing” to the 1898 journal of the Brontë Society, along with a stitched pair of slippers and several letters that Charlotte had written to Sophia. The period mania for collecting Brontë memorabilia may have accounted for the vanishing of these items.

What happened to the miniature during the next century is not known at present, but the Lincolnshire vendors did not live too far from Bridlington. The miniature was unsigned, but the evidence was compelling enough for the Brontë museum in Haworth to believe the late 19th century collector’s label on the reverse of the portrait which detailed the artist and sitter. The museum houses a small group of portraits by Charlotte of her sister Anne, but on this occasion the bidding from Brontë fans was too strong for the institution, and the portrait sold at £20,000 (plus 15 per cent premium).