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Darwin Correspondence Project

1.9 Rajon, etching after Ouless

This large and impressive etching by the French artist Paul Adolphe Rajon reproduces Ouless’s oil portrait of Darwin of 1875, probably on the basis of an agreement between painter and engraver. The ‘over-hardness’ of effect which reviewers criticised in Ouless’s painting may even have been intended to facilitate its translation into a graphic medium. Rajon was evidently allowed to borrow the painting to work from in his studio, and he returned it to the Darwins in 1877, when he visited Down to show them a proof impression of the etching. Emma noted, ‘they [other members of the family] all admired it but I rather dislike etchings & don’t like the picture; so it was not likely to please me’. It did please many art lovers, however: an impression was acquired by the British Museum in 1878, and another was exhibited at the Fine Art Society in 1880. Henri Beraldi, in Les Graveurs du XIXe Siècle (1891) thought it was one of the two best works done by Rajon in England, where he worked for six months a year; and Robert Wickenden, writing in 1916, described it as a ‘veritable masterpiece’. Through the circulation of this print, including many reproductions and adaptations, an image of Darwin originally intended as a family possession was widely disseminated – an interchange between the private and public spheres that became increasingly common in relation to Darwin iconography. For example, a half-tone photographic reproduction of the print had pride of place among many portraits of Darwin that illustrated a commemorative article in The Bookman in February 1909 (pp. 211–215); one copy of this belonged to William Darwin, who lent it to the Darwin Centenary exhibition at the Natural History Museum in London, that same year.  

Rajon’s original etching was, nevertheless, treated as an autonomous and highly collectable work of art, rather than as one serving a merely reproductive purpose like a commercial engraving. It was evidently issued by the artist himself (there is no printed publication line), initially as a limited edition, and his creativity is put on display by the little etched portrait heads that appear in the margins of the main image in many early impressions of the print. This practice, often adopted by artist-etchers like Rajon, was referred to as remarque. It was ostensibly a way of trying out the effect of technique and materials during the progress of an etching. However, it also created a sense of artistic spontaneity and individuation that was attractive to print collectors, and in fact some impressions of this print, including one in the collection of Professor William Friedman, have additional portrait heads. According to Beraldi, Rajon’s wealthy clientele in France and Britain, later also in America, had such a taste for remarque that he ‘used and abused’ it plentifully. The man in the right-hand border of the print resembles photographs of Ouless, with his aquiline nose and short curly hair: perhaps a tribute paid by the etcher to the painter. The head at the bottom left corner can be identified with some confidence (by comparison with a painted self-portrait of 1884) as that of Rajon himself, who may also be represented in the two bearded heads in the bottom border. Between them is Darwin, with whom the etcher thus claims a kind of intimacy.  

The Wellcome Library possesses two impressions of Rajon’s print, representing different states. The impression in the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings (1878.0713.138) lacks the ‘remarque’ sketches, but has a facsimile of Darwin’s signature and an etched inscription, ‘W.W. Ouless A.R.A. pt., Rajon aq. fort.’ Rajon’s print was also copied by G. Mercier in an etching published by Robert Lindsay in 1890. 

  • physical location Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. Impressions with the ‘remarque’ marginal sketches also exist at Dundee Art Galleries and Museum, the Wellcome Library and elsewhere. 

  • accession or collection number P.14242-R 

  • copyright holder Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge 

  • originator of image Paul Adolphe Rajon 

  • date of creation c. 1875–1877 

  • computer-readable date c.1875-04-01 to 1877-12-31 

  • medium and material etching 

  • references and bibliography Henri Beraldi, Les graveurs du XIXe siècle. Guide de l’amateur d’estampes modernes (Paris: Librairie L. Conquet, 1891), vol. xi, pp. 151f., 165. Darwin Centenary: The Portraits, Prints and Writings of Charles Robert Darwin, exhibited at Christ’s College, Cambridge, 1909 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1909), pp. 3-4, no. 8, and p. 20, no. 97: a fine ‘proof’ impression of Rajon’s etching was lent by George Darwin – perhaps the one shown to the family in 1877. Robert J. Wickenden, ‘Paul Adolphe Rajon’, Print Collector’s Quarterly, 6:4 (Dec. 1916), pp. 411-434 (pp. 420–421). Renate Burgess, Portraits of Doctors and Scientists in the Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine: A Catalogue (London: Wellcome Institute, 1973), p. 92, no. 764 (5). Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place. Volume II of a Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 2002), p. 424, referring to DAR. 219.1.95, 96. Janet Browne, ‘Looking at Darwin: portraits and the making of an icon’, in Isis, 100 (2009), pp. 542–570 (pp. 552-3). J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 142. 


 

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