My Dickens Portrait

Charles Dickens Linocut Portrait

Charles Dickens is probably one of the most photographed men of the mid-19th century. There are also tons of portraits, etching and paintings. I knew at some point that I would be doing a portrait of him myself. It was sort of a given. With hundreds of photos available, good reference material was not a problem. The thing is though, in those days, photography didn’t allow people to smile!

There was a tendency too, I guess, since sitting still for the photograph was a requirement, that “serious” personages be depicted in formal poses. While the photographic record is extensive, it tends to lack the liveliness of what we know of Dickens. And yet, from what we know of the man, and especially reports of his stage readings and theatrical performances, he was worlds more animated than his formal photographic record reveals. I wanted to capture a bit of that. So a smile seemed to be the way to bring a bit of life. It’s also a first in the history of Dickens portraiture!

One thing I’ve noticed in my research of the styles and fashions of the mid-19th century, was that men’s hair styles sometimes got a little wild, and our man was no exception. I would look at his hair, and look some more, and believe me, it’s the kind of thing that an illustrator or any artist can get caught up in. it just begs interpretation. What do you do with this, how do you make it mean more somehow?

In some photos, his hair sort of frizzes out into space, and I got to thinking how the great work of Charles Dickens sends out vibrations of all kinds, in all directions, that we all feel, still, up to the present day. Well there’s his hair, right there! As I sketched it, I started drawing swoopy lines moving out and out like radio waves, and in a simple graphic way, it seemed just right. 

For his jacket I continued the same approach but with a more physically solid appearance; this part is purely decorative to continue the same loopy, fun style of his hair.

The “Boz” nickname, I understand, comes from either Dickens’ son or younger brother who was called “Moses”, which, from family wordplay, no doubt, became “Boses”, and then shortened to “Boz”. The pronunciation may be more like “Boze”, but that’s my own guess.

I won’t be posting next week, taking some time off for the holidays. If you’d like to comment on this or any of my posts, you can email me at

Author: mooney2021

I am a commercial artist and illustrator from New York and now retired. I'm also a longtime Charles Dickens fan and I've embarked on a project to illustrate his great BLEAK HOUSE.

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