HE’S often known as the ‘forgotten Bronte’, outshadowed by his famous literary sisters. But had Branwell Bronte’s work as an artist been recognised, would he have been so self-destructive?

Colin Neville is the founder and curator of website Not Just Hockney, showcasing 375 artists, past and present, with a Bradford connection.

Here Colin pays tribute to Branwell, whose work is exhibited at Haworth’s Bronte Parsonage Museum and now also at the National Portrait Gallery in London:

If he could have anticipated this honour in his lifetime, it may have extended his life - which became more aimless, desolate and self-destructive with every passing year until his early death.

As the only son of the family, the ‘bright star’, there was pressure on him to succeed in life. But at what? He did not possess the strength of faith to follow his father as a curate. His talents, in common with his sisters, inclined him in a literary and artistic direction.

His father paid for him and his sisters to have drawing lessons, in 1829-30 from John Bradley, a Keighley artist, then, in 1834, from William Robinson, a society portrait painter.

Rev Bronte paid Robinson two guineas per lesson - an enormous sum then - which may have (according to Bronte biographer Dr Juliet Barker) caused the penurious Robinson to encourage Branwell beyond his talents to aspire to be a professional artist.

In 1835, aged 18, convinced that art was the career direction to take, Branwell drafted a letter of application to the Royal Academy. However, there is no evidence the letter was sent, and no record of such a letter received by the Royal Academy.

It is likely that the Rev Bronte would have found it financially difficult to support Branwell in London.

Between 1835 and 1838, Branwell pursued a literary career but in 1838 came back to his artistic ambitions and established a studio at Fountain Street, Bradford.

He painted portraits of his landlord and landlady and other Bradford worthies introduced by the Rev William Morgan, a family friend.

However, after less than a year, Branwell had given up the studio, and any hopes of making a living from portrait painting.

He enjoyed alcohol-fuelled social encounters with other artists and writers in Bradford, but it seems he did not have the persistence or temperament to succeed as an artist.

It is likely that more affluent clients would have gone to Leeds, or London, to find a professional artist. It is also likely that Branwell’s network of friends dried up as a source of work and that he lacked the drive to pursue new commissions.

Branwell’s art was often at its most engaging when he worked spontaneously, responding to his emotions, rather than to order.

His life after his retreat from portrait painting was a downward spiral, with spells of short-lived work as a clerk and tutor punctuated by bouts of drunkeness and addiction to opiates.

He died at Haworth Parsonage in 1848, most likely of tuberculosis, his body weakened by alcoholism and drug addiction.

One of his final sketches presents a self-summary of his life: Our Lady of Greif [sic].