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Technicolour Dickens at the Charles Dickens Museum

Last updated on October 28th, 2020

Think you know your Dickens? He’s poised, sombre, a mass of Victorian beard and he looks a little worn out, right?  But you’ll be thinking your Dickens again after touring Technicolour Dickens, a new exhibition at the Charles Dickens Museum which brings him full throttle into the glossy age of technology. The celebrated author also knew how to work the PR machine. He was a man who knew how to market himself to his adoring audience. It becomes clear during this exhibition that if Dickens were alive today, he would be ruling the social media waves.

Technicolour Dickens

Oliver Clyde’s colour facsimile of Charles Dickens, aged 40. This earliest surviving photograph of the author from 1852 was taken by Antoine Claudet, one of the leading photographers of the day.

Dickens’s expressive, bold, flashy and surprisingly handsome face is everywhere at the museum: from the earliest painting of the author at the age of 18; to the posthumous drawing by Millais where he still appears to be breathing.


A young Dickens, painted by Samuel Laurence in 1837.

At the centre of the exhibition are eight historic photographs from the museum’s collection. These were given a Photoshop makeover by London-based portrait and still life photographer, Oliver Clyde.

Technicolour Dickens

The curators painstakingly researched the colour and tone of the clothes, accessories and objects from the original black and white photographs. Clyde even went so far as to incorporate the skin texture from the author’s great-great grandsons, Gerald Dickens and Mark Dickens, into these images.

Dickens the Dandy

Technicolour Dickens, clothes dickens died in

The waistcoat Dickens was thought to have died in and which he bequeathed to his coachman. (Image: Dickens museum)

Dickens the Dandy also makes a grand appearance with vivid waistcoats, chequered trousers, tartans and jewellery. The exhibition includes his hairbrush and other accessories (he was very particular about his hair, always brushing it from right to left in order to conceal his high forehead).

A black silk grosgrain waistcoat is on display for the first time in 100 years and is thought to have been worn by Dickens when he had his final stroke in 1870.  This, together with the court suit worn by Dickens when meeting Edward, Prince of Wales, are the only known pieces of Dickens’s clothing in existence.

A media sensation

Lost Portrait Charles

The ‘Lost Portrait’ of Dickens painted by Margaret Gillies when Dickens was 31 years old and writing A Christmas Carol.  It was recently discovered, covered in mould, in an auction in South Africa. It was restored and now happily sits in Dickens’s study in the museum.

Dickens was the most famous writer of the Victorian age. His face appeared in hundreds of paintings, drawings, sketches and photographs. He was a media star, thriving on the “personal affection” the public had for him.

Charles Dickens Museum, Doughty Street

He also understood the power of PR, working with illustrators and photographers in order to showcase bite-sized images of his persona. Approximately 200 unique “cartes de visites” were produced during his lifetime. Above, he sports the “spade-shaped” beard which made him look old and which so many of his friends disliked.

Technicolour Dickens

Dickens sits at his “whatnot desk” in a studio. He would incorporate personal items into these photography sessions, regardless of how complex it might be to have these delivered.

What strikes me most about Technicolour Dickens is what a chameleon I have before me. Dickens never looks the same, and his impatience in life transcends into these extraordinary images. What’s more, the Father of Christmas, the austere man who seems forever old, is actually rather easy on the eye. His sense of fashion puts Beau Brummell to shame, and like me, you might quite take a fancy to Mr Dickens by the time you’re done.

In a Nutshell: Technicolour Dickens

Verdict: pack some sunglasses for this dazzling exhibition that paints a handsome picture of one the world’s most celebrated authors.

Run time: to 25 April 2021

Must-see: the black waistcoat in which Dickens is thought to have died.

Treat yourself to: a drink in the pretty garden café and a Dickens trinket from the museum shop.

Address: Charles Dickens Museum, 48 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2LX

To book tickets please visit the Dickens Museum website. The museum is currently open Friday to Sunday from 10am until 5pm with staggered entry every 15 minutes.

A London arts and culture blog featuring articles about art, theatre, opera, dance, music and design.

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