The Dark Portrait of R. Browning

William Page was an American painter and portrait artist born in Albany, New York in 1811. In 1849 he went to Italy where he lived in Florence and Rome for eleven years, returning to New York in 1860. While he was in Italy, he painted the portraits of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and other well-known Englishmen and Americans.

The ABL&M owns Page’s portrait of Robert Browning. This was Elizabeth’s favorite portrait of her husband. Unfortunately, it is now so dark that it is difficult to see Robert’s face in the painting. Due to his painting methods, much of Page’s work darkened excessively. This darkening happened, apparently, because he mixed bitumen ( a cousin of asphalt) in his paints and glazes. At first, this gave his works a warm glow, but we are told that the portrait of RB began darkening four or five years after it was painted. Sadly, Elizabeth’s favorite portrait of Robert is now so dark that, just to make out his visage, one must stand at just the right angle with light coming from behind. (Visitors can see RB’s visage much clearer in the above photo than in person.)


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