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Darwin Correspondence Project

1.15 Albert Goodwin, watercolour

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In 1880 the watercolourist Albert Goodwin was apparently invited to Down to produce that rare thing – a portrait of Darwin with members of his family. As Henrietta Litchfield, Darwin’s daughter, explained when she reproduced it in her biography of her mother, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Darwin are seated in the verandah, their grandchild Bernard Darwin stands in front, and “Polly” is trotting towards them.’ Bernard lived at Down House with his father, Francis Darwin, after the death of his mother, and would then have been three or four years old. Henrietta explained in her ‘Sketches for a biography’, that, after she married and left Down, Darwin had adopted her dog Polly, and ‘became passionately attached’ to the animal. This treasured member of the family ‘went all his walks with him’ and followed him round the house - ‘His manner to her was wonderfully tender.’  

The verandah on the garden side of Down House evidently became one of Darwin’s favourite places, as his decline in health precluded walks into the country. It was there, at about this same time, that Elliott and Fry photographed him, wrapped in his cloak and leaning wearily against one of the columns. However, in contrast to those wintry images, Goodwin’s watercolour is an idyll, with its beds of flowers in bloom, the sunny sky and flocks of birds. Darwin’s children had particularly fond memories of family gatherings in the verandah. Leonard described ‘my father sitting . . . in his tall wicker chair, looking very peaceful and contented, with my mother near by, and his little dog Polly not far away’. Henrietta explained, ‘So much of all future life was carried on there, it is associated with such happy hours of talk and leisurely loitering, that it seems to us almost like a friend . . . Polly, too, appreciated the verandah and became a familiar sight, basking in the sun, curled up on one of the red cushions.’ Goodwin’s painting must have echoed but also crystallised these recollections. 

The work belonged to Horace Darwin, Darwin’s youngest surviving son, whose daughter Nora Barlow presented it to Down House in 1968. According to Julius Bryant, it had been commissioned by Henrietta and her husband as a wedding present for Horace when he married in 1880. Two years later, Goodwin produced another watercolour of ‘The House at Down’, which belonged to Leonard Darwin. Though evidently intended as family mementos, these paintings anticipated the impressions of life at Down that were purveyed to the public after Darwin’s death. Many photographs were taken to record the appearance of the house and its environs. Wood engravings and lithographs from drawings by Alfred Parsons also depicted these places, especially Darwin’s favourite haunts: now poignantly empty, but imbued with memories of his attachment to them. Some were published in Century Magazine in November 1882, to accompany an article by Alfred Russel Wallace on Darwin’s scientific achievements, and a similar group was used in the Illustrated London News in 1887 for an article headed ‘The late Mr. Darwin’ (see separate catalogue entry). His retired, domestic but studious life at Down became the symbol of his integrity as a scientist. 

Goodwin had been a pupil of Ford Madox Brown, and a protégé of Ruskin, whom he assisted as a draughtsman and companion on travels through Europe. His pleasant light effects, richness of incident, and grasp of topography evidently appealed to Darwin himself, as the family had already acquired his large watercolour of The Old Walls of Winchester (1876), which hung in the drawing room at Down, and escaped the criticism which Darwin directed at much of the fine art of his day.  

  • physical location English Heritage, Down House 

  • accession or collection number EH88202055 

  • copyright holder English Heritage 

  • originator of image Albert Goodwin; signed and dated at bottom left, ‘A. Goodwin/ 80’ 

  • date of creation 1880 

  • computer-readable date 1880-01-01 to 1880-12-31 

  • medium and material watercolour on paper 

  • references and bibliography Alfred Russel Wallace, ‘The debt of science to Darwin’, Century Magazine, 25 (Nov. 1882 – April 1883), no. 40, pp. 420–432. ‘The late Mr. Darwin’, Illustrated London News, 91:2538 (10 Dec. 1887), pp. 686–8. Darwin Centenary: The Portraits, Prints and Writings of Charles Robert Darwin, exhibited at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1909 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), p. 5, nos. 16 and 17. Henrietta Litchfield, Emma Darwin: A Century of Family Letters 1792–1896, 2 vols (London: John Murray, 1915), vol. 2, illustration facing p. 76 and p. 210; also her MS ‘Sketches for a biography’, Cambridge University Library, Darwin archive, DAR 262.23: 1. Leonard Darwin, ‘Memories of Down House’, The Nineteenth Century, 106 (July 1929), pp. 118–123 (p. 123). Janet Browne, ‘Presidential address: Commemorating Darwin’, British Journal for the History of Science, 38:3 (Sept. 2005), pp. 251–274 (pp. 266f.).  Julius Bryant, ‘Darwin at home: observation and taste at Down House’ in Diana Donald and Jane Munro (eds), Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science and the Visual Arts (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 28–46 (pp. 28–9, 35, 37, p. 46 note 20). 

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