The portrait of actor Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in the 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice is on the block on January 21st through Bonhams Auction House in London and available to the highest bidder. This may very well be the ultimate Darcy fan collectible. Not only is it a portrait of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, it represent the most significant turning point in the novel when the heroine Elizabeth Bennet gazes up at the Master of Pemberley and realizes that he’s not the chump that she thought he was; begins to fall in love; changing the course of novel and literary history; tra la!
And what a clever plot twist Jane Austen devised in having heroine Elizabeth Bennet so moved by the depiction and what he entails, “As a brother, a landlord, a master,” that her reaction to the portrait adds a “more gentle sensation toward the original” and “regard with a deeper sentiment of gratitude than it had ever raised before“. Other authors over the years have recognized the importance of a good portrait and used it to their advantage. Hollywood has picked up on this also, and I have been fascinated over the years how often it pops up in films. The most famous movie portrait is probably from the 1944 film-noir classic Laura, starring Gene Tierney as Laura Hunt whose hauntingly beautiful portrait moves the detective Mark McPherson played by Dana Andrews to fall in love with her even though he is investigating her murder. Another great movie portrait is shown in Gone With the Wind. The vain heroine Scarlett O’Hara Butler has just given birth, and as the father Rhett Butler toasts his wife and new daughter, we see a huge full length portrait of Scarlett in the background looking down supremely over the scene. From that moment on the plot significantly changes when Scarlett decides she is too fat from the baby and will have no more, spurning her husband from their bed and ruining their love. The ultimate movie portrait gone bad is in the 1945 Gothic classic, The Picture of Dorian Gray based on the 1891 novel by Oscar Wilde in which a vain plea by the young handsome hero to never grow old is mysteriously granted, but his portrait grotesquely ages, ultimatley destorying him. Jane Austen knew of the power of the portrait, but her predecessors have never reached the impact that she achieved in one brief passage in the novel.
The Darcy portrait has never been one of my favorites. I have always thought that it was not very flattering to either entities, Mr. Darcy or Mr. Firth. It made them look stout and way too middle-aged, which either was not. It appears that during the production of the 1995 miniseries the portrait had an even worse beginning and improvements were made to try to give Mr. Darcy a more favorable interpretation. You can read the full story written by Colin Firth in the letter that accompanies the lucky winner of the portrait. The proceeds of the auction will benefit charities, though its provenance is not mentioned. One wonders out loud if it has been in Firth’s possession and he was ready to pass it on so to speak. I can’t blame him really, because it is not his best likeness. However, from the viewpoint of a national treasure, that is another story, which some deep pocket or Jane Austen institution will be happy to supplant equal measure in pewter to Bonhams for the sheer pleasure of having Mr. Darcy gaze at them all day long!