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Darwin Correspondence Project

2.15 Boehm terracotta bust (NPG)

The sculptor Edgar Boehm donated this terracotta bust of Darwin to the National Portrait Gallery in February 1887. It is closely associated with his seated statue of Darwin in the Natural History Museum: not an original model for the latter, but probably based on one – perhaps the ‘sketch in terracotta’ of Darwin that Boehm’s executors lent to ‘The Victorian exhibition, illustrating fifty years of Her Majesty’s reign’, held at the new Gallery in 1891–1892 (catalogue no. 1079). Sir George Scharf, first director of the National Portrait Gallery, evidently wrote to Boehm in June 1885, praising the marble statue and deprecating the fact that the sculptor seemed to have been side-lined at the unveiling ceremony in the Museum. However, Boehm replied on 10 June, assuring Scharf that he had not wished to be in the limelight. ‘Your kind and graceful praise on the Darwin statue gives me great pleasure – as I value your opinion most highly – That I was not on the platform was my fault’. In fact, he had only attended the ceremony at all because it had been intimated that his absence ‘might give offence’. Boehm went on: ‘I shall make you as good a terracotta of Darwin as I possibly can’, and he was proud that the Gallery would accept it. This lively likeness of Darwin in his later years, with furrowed brow and intense eyes under shaggy brows, penetrates individual character through external appearance in just the way that the National Portrait Gallery favoured, even though Boehm had never met Darwin. The NPG’s collections were then still in temporary accommodation, and were only gradually augmented by portraits of famous people who had died recently. This was nine years before the opening of the NPG’s present grand building in 1896, when William Darwin donated John Collier’s canonical portrayal of Darwin. 

  • physical location National Portrait Gallery, London 

  • accession or collection number NPG 761 

  • copyright holder National Portrait Gallery 

  • originator of image Joseph Edgar Boehm 

  • date of creation c.1885–1886 (wrongly dated by the NPG to 1883) 

  • computer-readable date c.1885-01-01 to 1886-12-31 

  • medium and material terracotta 

  • references and bibliography manuscript letter from Boehm to Scharf, 10 June 1885, in NPG registered packet 761. Paul Barlow, ‘Facing the past and present: the National Portrait Gallery and the search for “authentic” portraiture’, in Joanna Woodall (ed.), Portraiture: Facing the Subject (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1997), pp. 219–238. 


 

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