Following the show in Hitchin last week things have calmed down as I am now entering a quiet month or so. One performance which was due for a couple of weeks time has been moved to later in the year, leaving me with a fallow period in which to relax.
So, there is not a huge amount to report this week, but there a couple of things that may be of interest:
The Lost Portrait
A snowy December day in The Berkshires seems like a long time ago now, but it was there that I wrote a blog post called ‘What Did Charles Dickens Look Like?’ in which I described the discovery of a long lost portrait of my great great grandfather and the fundraising efforts of the Charles Dickens Museum in London to purchase the miniature and put it on permanent display.
The target was £180,000 and at that time the sum seemed huge and unobtainable, but I am delighted to announce that this week the museum issued a statement:
A portrait of Charles Dickens that was lost for more than 130 years is “coming home” after a successful fundraising campaign.
The Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street in London said the target of raising £180,000 had been reached to buy the painting by Margaret Gillies of the writer when he was 31.
It was once a famous image, displayed at the 1844 Royal Academy summer exhibition. But Gillies said in 1886 that she had “lost sight of the portrait”. It remained lost until, covered in mould, it was improbably spotted in a cardboard box of trinkets at an auction in South Africa.
The museum said it had received substantial grants from the Art Fund and the lottery-funded Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, as well as donations from admirers of Dickens.
Cindy Sughrue, the director of the museum, said: “We are so excited to be bringing the lost portrait home and we are extremely grateful, and touched by, the generous support that we have received.
“It is a magnificent affirmation of the enduring appeal of Dickens’s writing and the worldwide fascination that he continues to inspire.
Dickens was already an emerging literary star when Gillies painted him and would have been in the thick of writing A Christmas Carol. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning saw the portrait and remarked how it “has the dust and mud of humanity about him, notwithstanding those eagle eyes”.
It re-emerged when someone paid the equivalent of £27 for a tray of stuff at auction in in Pietermaritzburg, which also included a metal lobster, an old recorder and a brass plate.
After some online research, the buyer realised the painting had the look of Dickens and contacted the art dealer Philip Mould.
Mould said its re-emergence was astonishing. “It is an epic tale with a supremely happy ending,” he said.
The Gillies portrait will go on display from 24 October and be a regular part of the programme although, to help its preservation, there will be times when it is not on display, the museum said.
Excellent news! Thank you to all who supported the appeal, whether financially or just by sharing posts via social media and spreading the effort across the world. I still haven’t actually viewed the portrait and I cannot wait to set eyes on it later this year.
My other job this week has been to finalise my Christmas calendar and get the dates posted on my website.
This year my travels to America are divided into three different trips, one in September, one in November and one in December and there are a few interesting titbits within those dates.
The saddest omission from this year’s trips is The Inn at Christmas Place in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This year the dates just didn’t work in such a way to allow a trip to Tennessee and I certainly hope that this is a temporary hiatus and that I can return next year.
Regular readers will know that the Inn has become a regular feature of my travels over the last ten years or so and I have forged close friendships with Kristy, Dwight, Debbi and the rest of the team at the hotel. Not only have the staff become friends, but many of the audience too and it is with a heavy heart that I will not be enjoying myself in the shadow of the Smoky Mountains.
Whilst one Inn does not feature this year, so another returns and it is with great excitement that I can announce that I am scheduled to perform at The Williamsburg Inn after a year off in 2018. The surroundings of the Inn are spectacularly elegant and I have enjoyed many wonderful times there. It will wonderful to be back.
Some venues find new dates and even new shows, for example I will be performing both Mr Dickens is Coming, Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cites during my September sojourn. On that trip I will be at Winterthur and Byers’ Choice both of which I will return to in December, but I will also be performing at The Broad Street United Methodist Church in Burlington, New Jersey and at Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville, Tennessee both of which have only had A Christmas Carol before.
The November hop takes in my Mid-Western venues in Missouri with my old friends at the Mid Continent Public Library Service and a return to Omaha, Nebraska to perform with the Douglas County Historical Society (you may remember that there were fears that last year may be my last in Omaha).
Beyond the American venues there are a few exciting additions to my UK dates too, most particularly a performance at Highclere Castle (the filming location for Downton Abbey). Anyone who watched the episode in which Dame Nelly Melba performed for the Grantham’s will know what I will be doing and where I will be doing it!
I will also be at the beautiful St George’s Hall in Liverpool again, the Lit & Phil in Newcastle and back at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons for a second time.
For a full run down of my 2019 dates take a look at my website: