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Darwin Correspondence Project

2.2 Thomas Woolner metal plaque

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In Benedict Read’s account of the work of Thomas Woolner in Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture, there is a reference to a ‘bronze medallion of Darwin . . . catalogued in Woolner’s studio in February 1913 (lot 123), which was presumably the same as that which Charles Darwin provided for Wedgwoods in 1869’. Woolner had died in 1892, and it was probably the death of his widow in 1912 that occasioned this auction of the residual contents of his studio. However, the identity of the ‘bronze medallion of Darwin’ remains mysterious. Conceivably it was a copy of the Royal Society’s Darwin medal designed by Allan Wyon. If so, this would indicate that it was Woolner who was employed, c. 1890, to produce a cast from the Wyon medal, as a model for the Wedgwood firm’s second ceramic medallion of Darwin. This profile portrait differed slightly from Woolner’s original design for a medallion made in 1869, but the auction house’s cataloguer could easily have confused them.  

It is unlikely that the ‘bronze medallion’ sold from Woolner’s studio in 1913 is identifiable with a circular metal relief in the V&A Wedgwood Collection, which portrays Darwin’s head in three-quarter view, and is inscribed simply ‘DARWIN’. This latter is wholly distinct from Woolner’s characterisation of Darwin, and is in fact much closer to Frank Bowcher’s portrayal of 1908 on the Linnean Society’s Darwin-Wallace medal, which was similarly inscribed with Darwin’s name in capitals. Was this also reproduced by the Wedgwood firm? 

  • physical location unknown 

  • accession or collection number unknown 

  • copyright holder unknown 

  • originator of image Thomas Woolner 

  • date of creation unknown 

  • medium and material bronze 

  • references and bibliography Benedict Read and Joanna Barnes (eds), Pre-Raphaelite Sculpture: Nature and Imagination in British Sculpture 1848–1914 (Henry Moore Foundation and London: Lund Humphries, 1991), p. 161. 


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