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Darwin Correspondence Project

2.18 Montford, Carnegie bust

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In 1901 the immensely rich steel manufacturer and business magnate Andrew Carnegie commissioned Horace Montford for two bronze busts of Darwin. The exact circumstances of the commission are unknown, but Carnegie must have been impressed by Montford’s proven ability to produce an accurate likeness of the great scientist, one of Carnegie’s heroes. According to a report in January 1902 in the popular scientific magazine Knowledge, the new busts were ‘mounted on marble pedestals, and the work is based on the marble bust made by the same sculptor for the late Lord Farrer’ – that is, the bust of 1898 now at the Royal Society. Carnegie had probably also seen photographs of Montford’s seated statue of Darwin at Shrewsbury. The report in Knowledge explained that one of Carnegie’s purchases was destined for his museum in Pittsburgh, and the other for Skibo Castle, his mansion in Scotland. The former is still at Pittsburgh, but the subsequent history of the latter is unknown to the present author. John van Wyhe records a third bronze at Kew Gardens, and various plaster casts of the work.   

In the Pittsburgh bust, signed by Montford and dated 1901, the treatment of the dress is more relaxed than in the earlier bust of Darwin, and it stands on a finely shaped square base rather than a round one. This was the period when Carnegie was pouring money into the construction of a library and a complex of museums in Pittsburgh, and into the acquisition of works to fill them. He believed that such donations, and the cultural and educational benefits they conferred, were a public duty – an expression of his ‘Gospel of Wealth’; and the bust of Darwin would have been felt to possess both scientific and artistic value. It was one of his gifts to the Fine Arts department of the Carnegie Institute, which had been founded in 1896, and, according to the accessions register, the bust had cost him 500 dollars. Minutes of a Fine Arts committee meeting of 15 January 1902 record that the bust was ‘accepted for the Department’s collection of Bronzes’, and was ‘in the room for inspection’ by members. However, in 1966 the bust of Darwin (together with one of Herbert Spencer by E. Onslow Ford) was transferred from the art museum to a sister institution, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History; it is now in the Director’s office there. 

Carnegie had long been a fervent believer in evolutionary theory as explained in the writings of Darwin, believing it to be as applicable to human social and technological progress – a ‘march to perfection’ - as to the development of species in nature. He greatly admired the writings of Herbert Spencer, who was persuaded to travel to America in the company of Carnegie to meet Carnegie’s intellectual circle. However, it has been suggested that Carnegie was not an out-and-out ‘Social Darwinist’. The extent of his philanthropic activities in the founding of museums and libraries stemmed from a conviction that it was imperative to promote the interests of the impoverished working classes through education and the provision of amenities, with the contemporary arts and sciences going hand in hand. 

  • physical location Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Pittsburgh 

  • accession or collection number sculpture permanent collection, 2.2 

  • copyright holder Carnegie Museum of Natural History 

  • originator of image Horace Montford 

  • date of creation 1901 

  • computer-readable date 1901-01-01 to 1901-12-31 

  • medium and material bronze sculpture 

  • references and bibliography Information from archive records kindly supplied by Xianghua Sun of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History Library. ‘A bust of Darwin’, Knowledge, 25:195 (Jan. 1902), p. 15. Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie, ‘popular edition’ (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920), pp. 338–339. Joseph Frazier Wall, Andrew Carnegie (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), pp. 362–394. David Nasaw, Andrew Carnegie (New York: Penguin, 2006), pp. 504–506, 686. Robert Jay Gangewere, Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie’s Museums and Library in Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011), with references to earlier literature on p. xi. J. van Wyhe, ‘Iconography’, p. 118. 


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