The Houghton Library’s Dickinson Collection holds one of only two authenticated portraits of Emily Dickinson: the 1840 Otis Allen Bullard portrait of the three Dickinson children. Ten-year-old Emily is depicted holding a rose and a book illustrated with flowers, indicating her early interest in gardening and nature; Lavinia holds a drawing of a cat (unlike her older sister, who preferred dogs, Lavinia was a lifelong cat lover). That cat, however, has always been difficult to see, as it was partially obscured by the painting’s frame.
A need to reprint the Houghton postcard of this iconic image led to a decision to re-photograph the portrait without its frame, in order to see the entirety of the canvas. The back of the painting was also photographed. The digital photography was done in the Harvard College Library Imaging Services studio. The color reproduction is more faithful to the original than in the older (scanned) color transparency; and indeed one now sees the seven-year-old Lavinia’s beloved cat more clearly.
The portrait of the Dickinson children is on display in the Houghton Library Emily Dickinson Room, which can be visited during Houghton’s weekly tours. Reproduction of Bullard’s portrait requires the department’s permission.
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